Contact: Protect Thacker Pass

October 1, 2021


OROVADA, NV — Disregarding new evidence that human remains of Paiute ancestors massacred by the U.S. Cavalry in 1865 can be found in Thacker Pass, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued an archeological dig permit Thursday for the Thacker Pass lithium mine project.

According to mine opponents, issuing the permit and conducting the archeological dig will violate the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the National Historic Preservation Act.

“We have presented BLM Winnemucca with an abundance of significant new evidence showing that the September 12, 1865 Thacker Pass Massacre happened within the proposed mine area,” says Will Falk, attorney for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and People of Red Mountain, and co-founder of Protect Thacker Pass. “BLM Winnemucca has ignored this new evidence and will likely destroy the remains of massacred Paiute people with the archaeological digs. So, not only did the federal government perpetrate this atrocity — now, it plans to destroy the physical evidence that it even happened.”

Falk and his co-counsel will file a “Motion for Reconsideration” in Federal District Court today. The motion presents Judge Miranda Du with arguments that the 1865 massacre means there are human remains present in Thacker Pass.

“When we found out the largest lithium mine in America was going to be in our state of Nevada, the ancestral homelands of the Paiute, Shoshone, Washoe, and Southern Paiute, we had to ask ourselves ‘why weren’t ALL Nevada Tribes contacted for meaningful consultation?’ Especially knowing that BLM knew this was a massacre site,” says Arlan Melendez, Chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony. “We are asking Judge Du to reconsider her decision until meaningful consultation takes place with all Nevada Tribal leaders and people.”

“Our government agencies are failing to respect and consider Indigenous people, our culture, and religion by issuing this archeological dig permit,” said Daranda Hinkey, spokesperson for Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu / People of Red Mountain. “My ancestors were viciously stripped of their lives in this sacred place we call Peehee Mu’huh, and the BLM, Far Western, and Lithium Nevada are saying this is unimportant. We need to protect this land for the tribal and rural communities.”

The ARPA permit, which is required under the Archeological Resources Protection Act, is the first step in allowing the archeological firm Far Western Anthropological Research Services to conduct “for-profit looting” in Thacker Pass (Far Western is a multi-million dollar corporation). The planned archeological digging is itself a legally-required step in planned construction of the Lithium Nevada Corporation Thacker Pass lithium mine. Digging can commence as soon as BLM Field Manager Kathleen Rehberg signs off on the fieldwork authorization.

“Due to the lack of early consultation with tribes—and truly, any real consultation at all—archeologists and BLM have not done a proper investigation into Peehee Mu’huh,” says Michon Eben, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer from Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.

Eben believes that Thacker Pass should be protected under the National Register of Historic Places because “the U.S. government-sanctioned massacre involved an important person to Paiute history, and in fact to United States history: Ox Sam, one of only three survivors,” she says. Many of the People of Red Mountain are direct descendants of Ox Sam, and are only alive today because of his escape in 1865.

The massacre itself, part of the Snake War, was a seminal event in the establishment of the Fort McDermitt Tribe. “These are all contributing elements to the National Registers criteria for evaluation,” Eben says. “This is American History and the Paiute people are important, not just the artifacts on and in the ground. BLM and the archeological firm has failed to look at this and failed to properly engage with tribes.”

“We’re asking for people to come to Thacker Pass immediately,” says Protect Thacker Pass co-founder Max Wilbert. “We’re also asking the BLM, Department of the Interior, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to put a halt to this right now.”

The behavior of the Bureau of Land Management has been severely criticized throughout the permitting process of the Thacker Pass mine. Virtual public commenting for the project took place during COVID, when many tribal and rural communities in Nevada lack broadband internet access and were in total lockdown.

Earlier this month, the BLM fined Protect Thacker Pass camp organizers Max Wilbert and Will Falk $49,890.13 for providing bathrooms to native elders engaging in ceremonial practices at Thacker Pass, which is a sacred site to Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone religious traditions.

Opponents of the mine have called this blatant harassment, an attempt to cover up BLM’s violations of the law, and a violation of Native American religious rights. Falk and Wilbert plan to fight the fine through an appeal process.

The proposed Thacker Pass lithium mine would be a 17,933 acre (28 square mile) project centered on a 1,100 acre open-pit. The project would also include a lithium processing plant, sulfuric acid plant (using sulfur from the oil and gas industry), a new electric substation, a seven-mile-long powerline, and a seven-mile-long water pipeline to carry 4.6 million gallons daily from the Quinn River watershed to the mine site.

The mine site is habitat for bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, greater sage-grouse, golden eagles, burrowing owls, pygmy rabbits, migratory birds, and hundreds of other species.

According to the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW), the project would cause “permanent” harm to “wildlife, ground and surface waters, and riparian vegetation” both “within and outside the project area.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also expressed serious concern about pollution from the mine.

NDOW has expressed particular concern about abandonment of nearby sage-grouse breeding areas due to noise from the mine. Thacker Pass is designated “priority habitat” for the species. Sage-grouse are at serious risk of extinction, as is an endemic snail species, the King’s River pyrg, who lives only in Thacker Pass,

The project is predicted to lower groundwater levels in nearby aquifers by hundreds of feet, and to pollute land, air, and water with arsenic, antimony, radioactive materials, and other toxic substances.

Lithium Nevada, subsidiary of Canadian corporation Lithium Americas, planned to begin constructing the mine in early 2021, but determined opposition has slowed the project. The Protect Thacker Pass land defense camp, which began in January with two people, has since brought hundreds to the site.

Resistance to the proposed mine has also included multiple lawsuits from ranchers, environmentalists, and tribes, as well as water rights challenges, public protests, and contentious meetings in Orovada, McDermitt, Reno, Winnemucca, and Carson City.

The Thacker Pass mine was “fast-tracked” under the Trump administration, which means that a public engagement and permitting process that normally takes 3-4 years was completed in less than 12 months in 2020, during the height of the COVID-pandemic.



• January 15, 2021 — Due to regulations cuts and “fast-tracked” permitting under the Trump Administration, the Bureau of Land Management releases a Record of Decision approving the Thacker Pass mine less than a year after beginning the Environmental Impact Statement process required under the National Environmental Policy Act. On the same day, the Protect Thacker Pass camp is established.

• February 11, 2021 — Local rancher Edward Bartell files a lawsuit (Case No. 3:21-cv-00080-MMD-CLB) in U.S. District Court alleging the proposed mine violates the Endangered Species Act by harming Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, and would cause irreparable harm to springs, wet meadows, and water tables.

• February 26, 2021 — Four environmental organizations (Basin and Range Watch, Great Basin Resource Watch, Wildlands Defense, and Western Watersheds Project) file another lawsuit (Case No. 3:21-cv-00103-MMD-CLB) in U.S. District Court, alleging that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act, Federal Land Policy Management Act, and other laws in permitting the Thacker Pass mine.

• May 20, 2021 — Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu releases public statement of opposition to the Thacker Pass mine & starts a petition which has gathered nearly 3,000 signatures.

• May 27, 2021 — The four environmental groups who filed suit on Feb. 26th ask Federal Judges for a Preliminary Injunction to block Lithium Nevada’s proposed archeological digging under their “Historic Properties Treatment Plan.”

• June 12, 2021 — A rally opposing the Thacker Pass mine is held in Reno, Nevada, with several hundred people attending. Speakers include members of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone tribe, Duck Valley

• June 24, 2021 — The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the oldest and largest national organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments, called on the Department of the Interior to rescind the permits for the Thacker Pass project.

• July 7, 2021 — A rally is held at the Carson City office of Far Western Anthropological Research Group, Inc., the for-profit archeological company hired to excavate the cultural sites at Thacker Pass. Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu (People of Red Mountain) deliver a signed letter stating that if Far Western digs up sacred and cultural sites at Thacker Pass, they will be committing actions that are unethical and wrong.

• July 19, 2021 — The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu (People of Red Mountain) file a motion to intervene in Federal District Court alleging that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in permitting the planned lithium mine.

• July 27, 2021 — Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu (People of Red Mountain), represented by attorneys Julie Cavanaugh-Bill, Will Falk, and Terry Lodge, file a second motion asking Federal Judges for a Preliminary Injunction to block Lithium Nevada’s proposed Historic Properties Treatment Plan.

• August 2, 2021 — Burns Paiute Tribe files a motion to intervene on the side of tribal plaintiffs.

• September 3, 2021 — Judge Miranda Du rejects the injunction request, writing that while she “finds the Tribes’ arguments regarding the spiritual distress that the [looting of native artifacts and sacred sites] will cause persuasive,” she “must nonetheless reluctantly” allow the archeological dig as “the Court must operate within the framework of the applicable laws and regulations.”

• September 12, 2021 — Roughly 100 mine opponents gather at Thacker Pass to commemorate the 156-year anniversary of a September 12, 1865 massacre of at least 31 Northern Paiute men, women, and children committed by the 1st Nevada Cavalry.

• September 15, 2021 — Bureau of Land Management delivers notice that Falk and Wilbert are guilty of trespass, fining them $49,890.13.

• September 29, 2021 — BLM informs tribes they have issued the ARPA permit, despite a pending consultation meeting with Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.