Thacker Pass, or Peehee mm huh, is threatened for an open pit lithium mine. In this video, myself and Will Falk of Protect Thacker Pass, and Daranda Hinkey of the Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone Tribe, speak from the top of Sentinel Rock at the eastern side of Thacker Pass.
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Max: Today is day 78 of Protect Thacker Pass camp and I’m standing on top of a place that’s now known as Sentinel Rock. We’re on the east side of Thacker Pass. So if you look behind me over here, past Will…this is Thacker Pass.
And I think most people who will be watching this already know, but we’re here to try to stop a proposed open-pit lithium mine that would go in this area right over here. You can see the road and the power line going up the center of Thacker Pass here. The proposed open-pit would be on this side, on the north side of the pass at least to begin with. The mining company calls the south side of the pass their exploration zone. So in my mind, what that means is they’re definitely going over there in the future. They’re not going to leave money lying on the table.
So it’s pretty stunning to be up here. All we can hear right now is the wind and the birds and the sounds of Crowley Creek right down here. There’s water running down here and we can hear the little trickle. And imagine that within the next year, this place over here which isn’t pristine – I mean this is land that’s been heavily impacted by grazing and different sorts of things, but it’s still wild. This is still one of the most wild places in the United States that’s left. There’s bobcats, there’s coyote, there’s antelope. This morning we were up at 4:30 am on top of these mountains over here…the Montana mountains, and visited a sage grouse lek over here. A lek is their mating ground that they return to year after year after year for generations. And the males make their song, they make their music in the lek and the females fly in from all around and they mate and the females go off to lay their eggs and raise their young in the sagebrush out here. They depend on sagebrush. ‘Sage grouse’. As the name implies, they’re what’s called a sagebrush obligate species: they can’t survive without sagebrush.
There are golden eagles that nest up here. Golden eagles are… I’ve been saying they’re allergic to civilization. They don’t like loud noises. They don’t like disturbances. They don’t like buildings and activity from humans, and they’ll leave if that’s stuff happens up here.
This mine, if it goes in, will turn this place, which is right now the domain of the antelope and the coyotes and the golden eagles, into a 24-hour industrial mining zone for the next 41 years. Heavy equipment running 24 hours a day, rumbling bulldozers, explosives, a sulfuric acid plant over here, 200 semi trucks a day coming up this rural, quiet road over here that maybe sees a car or two an hour on a normal day. And Lithium Americas is the mining company and a lot of people claim that this is a green project, that this is part of a drive to save the planet. And it just confounds me. It confounds me. It’s like saying, you know, ‘I’m a doctor and I’m gonna save your life by ripping out part of your body, by slashing you, by shooting a bullet into you.’ It doesn’t make any sense to me that you save the planet by destroying it. That you save the planet by sacrificing a place like this. For what? For what? For what? So that people can drive cars.
We came up here today because we were hanging out at camp and talking with Daranda, who’s over here on the rock, and her dad and her mom, and talking about the cultural sites out here. The Paiute people have lived in Thacker Pass for thousands of years. And so we walked up here, we came down to Sentinel Rock and there’s obsidian flakes from people sitting up here and making their stone tools. Everywhere on the ground around here. Every step that you take you’re stepping on these obsidian flakes. People, families coming up here to make their projectile points and make their cutting tools and make everything that they needed and sitting on this beautiful spot just like we are right now, coming up and enjoying the view and enjoying the breeze and probably spotting the antelope out on the flats out here, seeing where the herds are going, and then going back down to the creek down here and fishing or making a fire down by the creek.
When I think about the difference between a culture that has a world-view that tells you it’s okay to come to a place like this and blow up an entire mountain, destroy all the sagebrush, kill the – or, drive away the golden eagles, the antelope, the grouse, the coyotes, the bobcats, the kangaroo rats, the foxes, the badgers, the mule deer, the meadowlarks, the lizards, the insects. And the people too… I mean, the people are not going to benefit from this mine. Pretty much everyone who lives in this valley over here, almost unanimously are opposed to this mine. Because it’s their water that’s gonna be poisoned, or it’s their homes and their fields that the dust and the uranium is going to blow off the mine onto. It’s their children who are in the school over there that the 200 trucks a day are going to drive by at this dangerous intersection to the point where, you know, government officials are saying it’s not if an accident happens, it’s when an accident happens…it’s when somebody dies. It’s when there’s a chemical spill or some sort of fiery explosion right next to the community elementary school. And it’s not the people who live here who want this. It’s people from far, far, far away. It’s this Canadian mining company with executives and board members from Germany and China and Canada and all over the world. You know, people who have been involved in extractive industries – oil and gas, gold mining. Those are the people who are going to make millions and billions of dollars off of this and leave behind a wasteland.
So people have been up here for 78 days, like I said, camping in Thacker Pass. You can actually see the light reflecting off something on our camp right now over by the ridge line over there. I don’t know if you can see it in the video. And we’re trying to stop this, and sometimes it feels like we’re set against the entire culture, because the county government seems to be pretty on board; the state government’s on board – they’re throwing tax breaks and money at this project; the federal government’s on board; the mining company’s on board; the investors are on board – they’re raising hundreds of millions of dollars for this project. And it’s easy to feel like this is overwhelming. You know, it’s easy to feel like there’s this overwhelming force arrayed against us. This is just one project, too. This is just one place. There’s another mine, a lithium mine, proposed for 20 or 30 miles up to the north here. And there’s a chance that more lithium mining will happen on top of the Montana mountains, right where the sage grouse lek is. There are gold mines going in right over here on the other side of the valley. There are old mercury mines up there. There are more gold mines down to the south. And then, to be frank, a lot of the ranchers and farmers out here are mining the groundwater too. It’s the same thing. They’re just digging groundwater out of the earth and pumping it away faster than it can be recharged. And that’s just the issues within 20 or 30 miles of here.
And I’m thinking about how an entire culture can lose its way and how behavior that is objectively insane can be normalized and systematized and formalized and turned into the way things are, right? One of the smartest lines I think I ever heard was ‘Any hatred that’s felt deeply enough and long enough no longer feels like hatred. It just feels like the way things are.’ And I think that’s true throughout history. You can look at a lot of historical examples like these pro-slavery writers back in the 1840s writing about how, ‘we don’t hate the African slaves in the south that we own. We don’t hate them. We love them. We want to take care of them. We respect them, you know? We’re trying to civilize them and give them medicine and housing and help lift them up and Christianize them’, right? And there’s this really insidious way that the hatred is so deep and so normalized that it doesn’t look like hatred anymore. It just looks like the culture. It just looks like the way you live. And I think about that when I think about these lithium mining executives. We just had somebody up at camp earlier today who has talked to these people. He’s spoken to the CEO of this company. He’s spoke into their biologist and their hydrologist and all the people who work for them and he was saying they’re very nice people, right? And that’s the hatred of the natural world being normalized to me. They said that a lot of the guards at the concentration camps, a lot of the doctors who worked at the concentration camps were very nice people by all accounts. They were nice family men. They treated their wives very nicely. They loved to go home and play with their kids, you know? And it’s this strange thing about human nature that we can deceive ourselves so well…that we can, in one aspect of our lives, be a very nice person, be a moral person. And then in another aspect of our lives, we can commit atrocities and rationalize them. And this whole push for green energy and green technology seems like a case of that to me. I mean, fossil fuels are a disaster. Climate change is an emergency, yes. And when there is an emergency, I mean, it’s The Shock Doctrine, right? It’s disaster capitalism. It’s a basic way that the system works: when people are afraid you can sneak all kinds of stuff by them. People will latch on to whatever they can find, whatever ideas come along, whatever charlatans and deceivers come along with a good story and a good ability to lie…people will latch on to that because they’re scared and they feel like they need help. They feel like they need a leader. They feel like they need solutions. And so people latch on to this idea that electric cars are going to save the world, which is just so self-evidently stupid it just makes me laugh. I mean, it’s absurd. It’s absolutely absurd, the idea that cars will save the planet. That producing batteries in a factory will save the planet.
So we really need people to join us out here. We need people to stand with us. We need people to come out to Thacker Pass to commit to this fight. Not just to protect this place. It’s very important that we protect this place, that we fight for what’s here. But also because this is symbolic. This is a place where we can make that stand. Where we can say, ‘We won’t go into this, quote unquote, “green apocalypse” quietly. We’re not going to go along with this. We’re not going to accept these lies.’ And I just think about those sage grouse up on the mountain this morning. You know, generations of sage grouse at that same lek on top of that mountain right over there. What do they need? What do they want? What does the creek want? What does the sagebrush want? What do the antelope want? What do the original people of this land want? What does the water need? I don’t know. I try to be upbeat in these videos sometimes, but then I sit up here on top of this place and I think about a water pipeline running from right down over here, right to the south of Central Rock right here, all the way up into Thacker Pass. And I imagine basically everything we can see right here turned into an open-pit with chemicals and pollution just rolling off of it, blowing right onto where I’m standing right now. And it’s just hard not to feel anything but just anger and disgust and outrage that people think this is a good idea, that people are going to come here and plunder this place unless they’re stopped, that the government is going to defend them, that the state is going to work on their side and send armed men with guns to protect their right to destroy the land, to destroy the water, to poison this place for generations. Do you two want to add anything?
Will: It’s been really sad day for me. I thought that starting the day off seeing seeing the sage grouse at the lek was going to be like a really joyful or joyous experience. There was a little bit of that, but after seeing how amazing that was just to see five males and maybe a dozen females, I couldn’t help but think about how sage grouse numbers have been decimated by between 97 and 99% of their numbers before Europeans arrived in the area. And it just made me really sad to think that, like someone 200 years ago, if they only saw five male sage grouse at that lek when there would have been hundreds, they would have been shocked and utterly heartbroken.
And then, you know, it’s the day before Easter. I was raised Catholic. It’s not a spirituality that I follow anymore. My spirituality, my deity is the land and up here at Sentinel Rock we can really see all of the land. We can see all of her and Easter is a holiday in Christianity where you celebrate, you know, Jesus rising from the dead. You celebrate the resurrection and I think of how many times the natural world has risen, has resurrected with the seasons and I think about how Thacker Pass has risen with the seasons and has endured so much violence already. We heard a lot of stories about how Paiute people had to hide in the hills above Thacker Pass when American soldiers came to round them up and put them on reservations and push them away. But then I think, you know, the natural world works so hard all the time to rise from the dead and resurrect herself. But I think if this mine goes through, Thacker Pass won’t be able to rise from the dead. That will be it for her, at least for thousands of years. And so at a time when so many people are celebrating the resurrection of of their God, I’m standing up here and thinking about the final death of my Goddess and that…yeah, that’s just really hard. That’s all I have to say.
Daranda: I’m not sure if I met anybody yet, but my name is Daranda Hinkey. I am a tribal member for the Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone tribe. And there’s a lot of things, you know, piggy-backing off of what everyone else said…all those things are extremely important. And to bring more of a cultural perspective into it – you know, we always talk about looking out for the next generation, and the next generation after that. And if this mine goes through, it’s hard to think, you know, what’s going to be affected in the next generation. What about my kids? And what am I gonna teach them? And my grandma and my aunts and things like that, they talk about all these stories and how they went back into these mountains, and they got some fish in this area and this creek, and there’s medicine here. And there’s so much connection to this land, and it’s not just Thacker Pass, it’s all over this area. And so, you know, I want to be able to be that person to talk about those stories to my children. Hopefully, my grandchildren.
And so, you know, this is really monumental to me just because I want to save it and and I want the next generations to care for this land as much as I do and as much as elders above me do, because I know that our ancestors would tell us that this is the right thing to do. To fight for our land, our water and the animals, the sacred sites. And so I just want to bring that into light as well. And out here, the ecosystem, it relies a lot on water and we don’t get very much water out here in the first place. And so water is really precious. Water is life. And as much water as the mine is going to be taking, and possibly – not actually possibly, but – they are going to pollute it, it’s just when they’re gonna pollute it. And so, you know, that brings the food chain and that water that’s going to be going down the stream, going to be in those plants, are we going to be picking those plants or those medicines? And then the animals are going to be eating that food and that grass and it just goes up the food chain. So, not as just a tribal person but a person who cares for the earth and cares for the water and the land, I think it’s really important. And, yeah, I would really like to see a lot of new happy faces up here and people who care about this place. And yeah, that’s all I’ve got to say.