I’ve been fighting to protect this place for the last two years. It was almost exactly two years ago the first time I visited Thacker Pass, early fall 2020 and I fell in love with the place. It was a night not too different from this. The rabbit brushes blooming, all kinds of insects flying around, sounds of the chuckers in these hills and other than that – silence, just a breeze and open space – something that’s incredibly rare in this country and the world. There are a billion people on it. It seems like we’re chewing our way through mountains, rivers, forests, grasslands, oceans, everything. Unrestrained. And that’s what’s coming for this place too. That’s what’s planned.
So, for the last two years, myself and many other people have been trying to protect this place. People want to protect it for all kinds of different reasons. Because it’s incredibly important wildlife habitat for rare species like the greater sage grouse who are already 97 or 98% gone. There are just a few of them hanging on – just of a few of them left. Some of their best habitat in the world is up here on top of the Montana mountains right behind me. They use Thacker Pass in the winter time when the storms are howling and fierce up high, they come down to this lower area to forage and raise their babies. Thacker Pass is a migratory route for pronghorn; mule deer. I saw cougar tracks this winter on the far mountain side over there, bobcat tracks on this mountainside the winter before. You hear the coyotes howling up here. You can probably hear the chuckers right now. This is a very biodiverse place. It’s important. It’s important to all the life who lives here – the birds, the lizards, the snakes, the plants. All the other animals, they rely on this place. This is their home and if it’s destroyed it doesn’t really matter to them if it’s for a coal mine, fracking, lithium mining or something else, they’re just as dead.
Some people want to protect Thacker Pass because it’s a culturally and spiritually important place. Not long after we came out here and set up a protest camp in January of 2021, we made friends with some native people from around the area who came out here and started telling us about the old history of this place going way back to the oral traditions. They told us of a massacre that took place down on this side. It was a fight between two different tribes that started here with a massacre of Paiutes and then continued off to the west and north-west. We learned last year about a massacre that took place over on the east side of Thacker Pass in 1865. It was the morning of September 12th. It was part of The Snake War – the bloodiest Indian war in the Western United States. And on that morning, a group of soldiers camped on the far side of the Queen River Valley over here. They called it the Quinn River now. They saw fire on this side of the valley, on the east side of Thacker Pass and they crossed the valley, swam the river, (at that time there were beavers, there was water in the rivers), and they came upon this Paiute village here and massacred the people. They attacked them in the morning with surprise right at dawn and they killed between 31 and as many as 70 people. None of the American soldiers were killed. Those people were never buried. Their remains are over there. That information has never been accounted for in the process of permitting this mine.
The tribes of this region consider this a very culturally important spot and a sacred spot because of those massacres and because this is a place that has been used for at least thousands of years for gathering obsidian, making tools, gathering medicines, foods. This is a travel route for people, just like for other animals. It’s a travel route today, for us. The people who live in this area today are also very concerned about the mine, both the native people and the non-native people. Right down in this direction there’s farms, ranches. The same is true over in that direction, and the rivers are already going dry – the aquifers drying up, it’s being over pumped.
This mine wants to pump out another four million gallons of water per day. Four million! I can’t even imagine what that looks like. So there’s a lot of people fighting this project, fighting for this land, fighting to protect this place. But the truth is, it’s been an uphill battle because the powers are arranged against us. Between Lithium America’s corporation, which is a billion dollar corporation backed by Ganfeng – Chinese lithium company and the biggest lithium company in the world – whether it’s them, their millionaire, billionaire investors and friends…the federal and state governments have been promoting this project – the Biden administration has made lithium production and electric vehicle production a cornerstone of his climate policy – something that’s been criticized by independent grass roots scientists and activists who, like me, don’t see electric vehicles as a solution, who see these costs, who see these places that are at stake.
Some people get confused when I start getting all passionate about this. When I start speaking about lithium and the problems with it, people get confused because they don’t understand. ‘How can you be an environmentalist and be against lithium? Isn’t that going to save us from global warming?’ And I’ll tell you, I’ve got a track record as an environmentalist. I’ve got a track record of fighting the fossil fuel industry. I’ve climbed on top of heavy equipment to blockade the fossil fuel industry. I traveled to the Arctic in 2010 and spent time with climate scientists conducting research on the thawing permafrost and their release of methane from these ancient soils thawing out in the arctic. So I’ve walked in that terrain. I’ve seen what’s happening to our planet and it is grim. Global warming is a very, very serious threat and a bad situation. And the thing is, when people are scared, they’re easy to manipulate. And that’s why this lithium comes into the picture because we’re talking about money. That’s the only green here. This mine is not green. This mine is not good for the planet, it’s not good for the sage grouse and the antelope and the deer and the lizards and the sage brush and all the other creatures who live here, it’s not good for the climate by releasing all these greenhouse gas emissions. It’s not good for the water by sucking four million gallons a day out of this aquifer. It’s not good for the soil by bulldozing and blowing up this entire mountain side, destroying the seed banks and the bacteria and all the life in the soil. It’s not good for the planet. The only way they can convince people that it’s necessary is by comparing it to fossil fuels, by comparing it to something that is absolutely atrocious for the planet. We need to think in more complex ways than this. We need to understand that there can be more than one thing that is bad for the planet.
And in fact, both lithium mining and fossil fuels are incredibly disruptive to the real world. The real physical world. A lot of people have trouble understanding this because they want lithium, they want a fast fancy car like a Tesla. People, enjoy these things. People want more cell phones and batteries that last longer and all these consumer products because we’ve been sold these things, we’ve been advertised them. Corporations have built our society around these technologies. But these things are luxury goods. They are not necessary for our life, for our enjoyment, for our well-being, for our happiness, for our thriving, and they won’t help us address the ecological crisis if they continue to accelerate us into it by destroying places like this and other places around the world in Portugal, in Serbia, in Bolivia, Argentina, in Tibet, in Australia.
All around the world places are at threat because of lithium mining, because of this new so-called green economy. And like I said, the only thing green about it is the money because these mining companies, these car manufacturers, they see trillions of dollars at stake here. We’re already seeing the subsidies shift. We’re already seeing the government budgets being pushed in the direction of supporting these industries.
Why do you think someone like Elon Musk is the richest man on earth? It’s not out of the goodness of his heart, that’s for sure. A man who has literally said, excuse my language, “fuck earth”! That’s a direct quote from Elon Musk. He said, “fuck earth”. The only planet known to support life in the universe. No wonder this man wants to go to Mars. He hates this planet. He hates this life, this world here. It’s an anti-life position. It’s ecocidal. So, it’s no wonder that he is at the helm of his industry that is trying to destroy the planet in this new way. But it’s not actually new because this mining looks just like mountaintop removal coal mining. It looks just like iron ore mining in the Amazon jungle. It looks just like rare earth mining in Baotou, China that is destroying the land and leaving behind an absolute toxic wasteland. It’s just like the magnesium mining and processing facilities in parts of eastern China that have destroyed all the soil life for miles in every direction. It’s just like all of these heavy industries which destroy the planet and feed us these little cheap consumer goods to try and keep us buying, keep us happy, keep us onto the next thing. Retail therapy, right?
And meanwhile, the land is suffering. The water is being poisoned. The air is dirty. The climate is changing. And we go deeper into this era of mass extinction, which frankly may end with our extinction unless we change our ways dramatically. Dramatically. Not just talking about switching out what is underneath the hood of our cars, switching out a gas tank for an electric vehicle battery.You know, I’m very lucky and blessed to have been raised in a family that took me camping when I was young, that I spent time out the natural world, that I was raised to care for animals ,to see other beings on this planet as our kin, as beings with their own life and desires and joys and dislikes and not not see us as better than all the other life on the planet and not see this world as something that is a resource for us to take and do with it what we will – that sort of twisted mentality that’s the default in this culture. I wasn’t raised with that. I’m very lucky, I’m very lucky to, you know, be healthy and have gotten to spend time out in wild places like this, to get to climb up these mountainsides and spend time up here at sunset to observe this place and contemplate these natural cycles…the water sheds that make up Thacker Pass, that drain to the east into the west, that carry the drinking water to all the people, all the animals, all the creatures around here that feed all the life in this cycle, this gigantic water cycle that carries water out to the ocean and back again.
Most people don’t have that opportunity in our culture. Most people are living in cities, in apartments, in small houses without much contact with the natural world on a daily basis. Most people have more relationships with machines than they do with wild beings, with wild creatures. Most people know more advertising tunes than they know bird songs. Most people, you know, know more about the menu at their local restaurant than they know about their local watershed. And this is a tragedy. And it’s having real consequences, but we need to understand that this isn’t just an accident. Like I’ve been saying this isn’t just a mistake or a misunderstanding, you know, this is being facilitated and pushed forward by individuals and institutions which have a stake in the status quo, which have a stake in things continuing in the way they have been.
So I think we need to organize and we need to fight. I don’t mean to go down without a fight. I mean to fight for this planet, and I don’t think it’s too late.
It’s too late for a lot of things. It’s too late for the passenger pigeons. It’s too late for all the creatures who’ve gone extinct. It may be too late for the Vaquita porpoise, but it may not be too late for the salmon. It may not be too late for the buffalo. It may not be too late for the climate. My friend says, “as long as there is one tree and one wolf she’ll keep fighting”. That’s how I feel. These are our family. These are literally our relatives, these other creatures who have emerged out of this planet.
Our life comes from this land, right? The first organisms emerged from stone and water and sky, became bacteria, evolved into complex multicellular organisms, emerged from the ocean onto land, started walking and talking and eventually became us – we are made up of the stuff of this planet. And if we cannot respect where we come from, if we cannot respect our mother, that does not speak well of us, that does not speak well of our character. But I think it is latent in all of us. I think that sort of natural connection, you know, that inborn naturalist that’s inside all of us to understand our place on the planet, to understand the relationships that we have to have with mountains, with rivers, with forests, with grasslands, with deer and the other creatures all around us – an understanding of that is our birthright, it is our inheritance and it is being stolen from us by this toxic industrial culture which puts us in boxes, which puts most people working jobs they don’t like for 50, 60 years struggling, striving just so they can get a disease that’s a disease of civilization as they call them – heart disease, diabetes, cancer. All of these things that are largely unknown in societies that are living more natural, land-based lifestyles. So we’re fighting at Thacker Pass. We’re fighting and we don’t mean to stop but it’s a hard fight. It’s a hard fight.
I talked about all the powers that are arranged against us and they have been bending and breaking every single rule that they can to try and push this project through. They did not even consult with any of the tribes in this area before permitting this mine, as they’re required to do under law, they’re in court about that right now. They hid 40,000 pages of documents from us in the lawsuits that are moving forward right now. They ignored the 1865 massacre site and they’re still ignoring the Peehee Mu-huh massacre site – the older, intertribal massacre site on this side of Thacker Pass.
They’re fighting me and Will Falk, who co-founded Protect Thacker Pass with me. They’re fining us 49,890 dollars and 13 cents. I can’t even get the words out right because it’s so ridiculous. We set up a protest camp out here. Last year on public land legally and after being put in contact, after getting in contact and starting to work with the native elders in this area and hearing about their stories and so on, they started coming out here to engage in ceremony and prayer, to commune with their ancestors in this place with the spirits of this land. And these are elders. They can’t go to the bathroom in the bushes like we can. They needed some facility here. Not the bathroom that’s 25 minutes away, 30 minutes away down the road. They needed some way to use the bathroom up here. They’re up here for hours-long ceremonies, days-long ceremonies in some cases. So we built them a simple pit toilet out here. That’s why the BLM is fining us – for building a simple pit toilet. But they’re going to allow the mining company to blow up this whole place, to destroy this whole land. Including, I might add, the area where we built, that toilet.
Ironically we recently got some of the details of that fine and the actual amount of the the fine is something like 12 dollars and 30 cents for trespass. 12 dollars and 30 cents. That’s what they’re fining us for. You might wonder what is the rest of the money for, what’s the $49,878 for? What’s the rest of that money about? They’re charging us for the staff time. All the staff, the BLM rangers, the analysts, the people who come through our social media looking for us saying strange things and illegal things, trying to catch us doing something wrong – all that staff time, hours and hours, thousands of dollars of travel going back and forth – they’re charging us for that. All supposedly to enforce a trespass of 12 dollars and 30 cents. I would be like if you got a parking ticket, $15 parking ticket and the city spent $50,000 to enforce it upon you. $50,000. We’re fighting this in every way we can.
The latest thing that’s just happened is the BLM and the lithium mining company came in here and did some test digging, which they were not legally allowed to do right now under an agreement in the ongoing lawsuits, but they did it under a previous permit. The slippery bastards. Excuse my language. They’re sly. This is how they always do things. They twist the law. They twist their words. They slide through everything. They used a previous permit – a 12 year old permit that has its own flaws, that has its own problems. You know, we found in the course of this fight that the previous tribal chairman from the Fort McDermitt tribe up here, he actually told BLM about that Peehee Mu-huh massacre, the oral history massacre of the fight between the tribes, he told them about it way back 12 years ago. They ignored that information. They deliberately excluded it from their report – the environmental assessment that they did for this exploration project out here. And that’s the flawed document the BLM is using to justify this dig that they’ve just allowed them to do.
It’s been a long fight. It’s been a hard fight and I know it will continue to be. And to be frank, it’s exhausting at times. It’s hard. It’s hard, man. I’m a human being. I’m just like anybody else. I could be home right now relaxing, I could be warm. I could be in my bed, I could be chilling with my family, you know, I could be watching TV, I could be going for a walk in the neighborhood. I could be playing with my nephews. But I’m out here. I’m fighting. And I’m doing this because I think we have a duty. We have a responsibility to the land and we have to uphold our end of the bargain. And I have faith in the land. I have faith in this planet. That’s why I keep fighting. So whether this is a new set of information to you, or whether you know about Thacker Pass, whether you’ve been following what’s going on for a long time, we need your help. If you’re in the region, go to our website, sign up. Check out all the latest articles on there. Read. There’s ways to get involved. There’s ways to help. Come out here. Spend time on the land. I think we need to protest. I think we need direct action. I think we need to stop them. I don’t think we can rely on the courts. And if you live somewhere else, there’s probably some terrible thing happening in your area too, unfortunately. That’s the reality of the world we live in right now. But there’s something about doing this work, you know, I can’t stop. For as hard as it is, for as exhausting and gruelling as it is at times, I can’t stop. When I take a break for too long, my soul starts to shrivel up in some way. There’s just a part of me that feels empty. And it’s the part that’s filled by the purpose that comes from doing this work. The purpose of fighting for the future ,for the land, for the water, for future generations. And I know a lot of us struggle with purpose. We struggle with finding our place in the world, what here to do.
Try it out. Fight. We need you. The land needs you.