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Thacker Pass opponents march to, protest at federal courthouse


After almost two years of legal battles, the future of the Thacker Pass lithium mine and the sacred tribal land it is on will soon be decided. 

A federal judge has already heard arguments from attorneys representing several Native American tribes, environmental groups and a local rancher who all sued to stop the mine. On the other side of the argument are Lithium Nevada, the company that wants to build the mine, and the federal Bureau of Land Management, which greenlit the project in the first place. 

“My friend Will Falk and I set up a protest camp on site of the mine almost exactly two years ago on Jan. 15, 2021,” said Max Wilbert, an organizer at the protest. “And we felt like crazy people at the time. You know, we thought, is anyone gonna listen? Is anyone gonna join us? Is anything gonna come of this? There were no lawsuits at that point, not a single news story critical of the Thacker Pass mine.”

Will Falk is the attorney for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and has been involved with the tribe’s opposition to the Thacker Pass project since 2021

Protest organizers and mine opponents met Thursday at the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Smoke Shop on Mill Street and marched the 1.6 miles to the federal courthouse at 400 S. Virginia St. Visitors from Indigenous communities that were affected by mining projects in Arizona addressed the crowd in front of the courthouse. 

Over 70 people held signs and waved tribal flags in support of the speakers and against the mining project. 

The Thacker Pass lithium mine is planned for an area northwest of Winnemucca in Humboldt County, a site called Peehee Mu’huh in Paiute, where regional tribes have been living for thousands of years and which they consider sacred land. The site is also the location of the 1865 Thacker Pass massacre. 

Most lithium is extracted by pumping underground lithium brine deposits into large evaporation pools. As of Nov 3, there are more than 18,200 active, filed, and submitted pacer claims for lithium and lithium brine across Nevada in 18 different hydrographic basins. 

“I think a lot of people are terrified about global warming, and I’m one of them,” Wilbert said. “We’ve all seen snow getting thinner on the mountains and the river getting lower and the summers getting hotter – weather getting more extreme. We feel that fear, and we’re being sold this idea that it’s either a climate apocalypse or it’s lithium and electric cars and everything else. I don’t think those are the only two choices available to us.”

According to the Institute for Energy Research, approximately 500,000 gallons of water are used per metric ton of lithium mined. 

Chief Judge Miranda Du is expected to rule on the case Bartell Ranch LLC v. McCullough within the next few months

Protesters marched from Reno-Sparks Indian Colony to the downtown Reno federal courthouse to protest the Thacker Pass lithium mine. Image: Mark Hernandez / This Is Reno, Jan. 5, 2023
Mark Hernandez
Mark Hernandez
Mark was born in Mexico, grew up in Carson City, and has recently returned to Reno to continue to explore and get to know the city again. He got his journalism degree in 2018 and wants to continue learning photography for both business and pleasure. Languages and history are topics he likes to discuss as well as deplete any coffee reservoirs in close proximity.