Dean Barlese, Pyramid Lake Paiute-Shoshone, blocking construction at Thacker Pass on April 25, 2023

by Ken Cosentino for Last Real Indians, April 26, 2023

On Tuesday, April 25th, a group of protestors successfully disrupted a lithium mining project at Thacker Pass in Nevada. One member of the group was Dean Barlese, an elder of the Pyramid Lake Paiute-Shoshone, who told us “We’ve got to stand up for our ancestors, they gave their lives, they shed their blood fighting for this land.”

If you search for “Thacker Pass” on Wikipedia, you will find that there is no page for this important cultural heritage site. There is, however, a very well kept Wikipedia page for “Thacker Pass Lithium Mine.” It seems pretty obvious that the narrative surrounding Thacker Pass is being dominated and controlled by some clandestine forces; who have buried the cultural significance of this geographical location deeper than the shattered bones of those who were massacred there.

Luckily, a group of activists known as Protect Thacker Pass have dutifully chronicled their opposition to the lithium mining operation.

According to their website, “Thacker Pass is a physical feature in Humboldt County Nevada, part of the McDermott Caldera approximately 60 miles northwest of Winnemucca. It was formed 16 million + years ago, is traditional and un-ceded territory of the Paiute and Shoshone people, and is United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public land. The traditional Paiute name of Thacker Pass is PeeHee Mu’huh meaning ‘rotten moon.’ Now it is also the proposed site for a massive lithium mine that would destroy the area and valuable habitat for the creatures who live there.”

Dorece Sam, an enrolled member of the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, issued the following statement: “Yesterday, we and our allies held a peaceful Paiute and Shoshone prayer at PeeHee Mu’huh. We prayed in the same manner as our ancestors whose spirits and remains lay in PeeHee Mu’huh. As a Fort McDermitt Tribal Member and traditional Paiute woman, I stand with and support our relative tribes like the Burns Paiute Tribe, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe who are fighting this destructive mine alongside us. Unfortunately the Fort McDermitt Tribal Council does NOT represent the interests of the Ft. McDermitt community and Tribal membership on this issue.”

In regards to the last sentence of Sam’s statement, Lithium Americas Corp. released the following response after yesterday’s events: “We understand that a handful of demonstrators were present today at the project site. Lithium Americas has always sought to engage constructively with our neighbors on common sense solutions that deliver shared success, and we are pleased to have the support of the nearby Fort McDermitt Shoshone and Paiute Tribe.”

Anyone who has paid any attention to the lithium mining in the Amazon rainforest knows of the destruction that these types of operations reap upon the land, and subsequently, the Indigenous populations.

According to the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony the planned lithium mining operation in Thacker Pass “was permitted without any consultation with native tribes. In fact, most regional tribes – including us – were not even aware of the planned mine until after the Final Environmental Impact Statement was released and the Record of Decision was signed on January 15th, 2021.”

During the height of the COVID pandemic, while reservations across Nevada were still in a state of lockdown, the Bureau of Land Management “fast tracked” the permit process; issuing a permit for the project in less than a year.

Thacker Pass, which sits within an extinct supervolcano (the McDermitt Caldera), is spiritually significant to Indigenous tribes of Nevada, including: The Northern Paiute, the Shoshone, the Southern Paiute, and the Washoe.

The mine is a project of Lithium Nevada, LLC; a “wholly owned subsidiary of Lithium Americas Corp, a Canadian company whose largest shareholder is the world’s largest lithium mining company, Chinese Ganfeng Lithium.”

Bucky Harjo (Paiute – Shoshone) said “As a parent I am sometimes brought to tears listening to our children play and their laughter throughout the day; with the life ways of our nations we learn and children learn, but for our grandparents and great-grandparents there was much pain… and now we see that pain once again as mining corporations trespass once again on our sovereignty, our traditions and treaty rights and religious rights. That sacred moment of the morning was powerful medicine and those voices should always be heard and not silenced, that is part of what we must protect, the harmony of Thacker Pass, PeeHee Mu’Huh.”

Thacker Pass was the location of two massacres. The second event is well documented and occurred during the Snake War on September 12th, 1865 when government soldiers slaughtered [at least] 31 men, women and children from the Paiute tribe. Fragments of bones and other remains are scattered throughout the proposed mining area, according to attorney Will Falk with Protect Thacker Pass.

According to the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, the first massacre, “which gave this area its Paiute name of PeeHee Mu’huh (“Rotten Moon”) was an inter-tribal conflict with a tribe from the west.” This event was carried out by the Pit River Indians of Northern California/Oregon.

BLM has conveniently ignored the aforementioned, stating that the sites which are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places are within the boundaries of the lithium mining area.

The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony has been joined in their opposition by the Burns Paiute Tribe, National Congress of American Indians, the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, a local rancher named Ed Bartell, Protect Thacker Pass, and “a community group composed mostly of members from the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, the People of Red Mountain (Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu).”

Lithium Americas Corp. is under contract to sell the lithium from Thacker Pass to General Motors for their electric cars. While politicians and corporations assert that electric cars are a sure-fire way to slow down climate change, the evidence says otherwise. The process of obtaining lithium for batteries is just as damaging to the environment as coal mining. Thacker Pass sits atop what may be the largest lithium deposit of Turtle Island, and greedy billionaires are licking their chops at the possibility of extracting lithium from Thacker Pass as early as 2026.

Says Max Wilbert, of Protect Thacker Pass: “Bulldozing a sacred mountain is not ‘green.’ It’s wrong to sacrifice biodiversity and cultural sites for greed and luxury cars.”