Artwork by Jamie Watson
The campaign to stop an open-pit lithium mine began on January 15th, 2021, after the Trump Administration fast-tracked mining on critical wildlife habitat that also happens to be a sacred site.
This past Sunday was the two-year anniversary of Protect Thacker Pass.
On January 15th, 2021, my friend Will Falk and I (with the help of my wonderful fiancée) packed camping gear, firewood, and a hot tent and moved our lives to the side of the mountain in Thacker Pass, putting ourselves directly in the path of Lithium Nevada Corporation’s planned open-pit lithium mine.
A lot has happened since (see a timeline at the bottom of this press release).
The first spring, we discovered that Thacker Pass is called Peehee Mu’huh in Paiute and is a sacred site to regional tribes. In early summer, the history of massacres at Thacker Pass emerged. Over the 10 months the camp lasted, thousands of people visited. In October 2021, we were fined $49,890.13 by the Federal government for putting up bathrooms for native elders. The government and Lithium Nevada Corporation have broken the law numerous times. Over the past year, the three ongoing lawsuits against the project have been slowly moving forward. We’ve worked to tell this story, and Thacker Pass has been on the front page of the New York Times and Le Monde, on CNN and NPR, and in hundreds of other media.
As I reflect on two years of this fight, I feel despair at what threatens this land, grief at what is being done to our world, anger at those who are doing it, awe at the beauty of the living world, pity for those who are caught up in the mythology of “progress,” and pride in those who take right action. I feel simultaneously exhausted and determined to continue.
Our planet is in crisis. We’re facing global warming, habitat destruction, population overshoot, water drawdown, pollution, technology running amok, rising inequality, and more. These external problems are signs of internal sickness, just as fever is a sign of infection. A culture built on greed, selfishness, and short-term thinking does not educate children to become healthy, well-adjusted people. Thus, our epidemic of mental illness and suicide and the wholesale breakdown of our physical health to “diseases of civilization.” We are a part of the whole. It is impossible to be healthy as an individual when the world is sick.
Jack D. Forbes (a Powhatan-Renapé / Lenape man who once taught at the University of Nevada-Reno), in his brilliant book Columbus and Other Cannibals, analyzed the colonization of the western hemisphere. He provided us with a powerful tool to understand what is going wrong by describing the culture of greed as a form of mental illness:
“I shall argue that [Christopher] Columbus was a wétiko, that he was mentally ill or insane, the carrier of a terribly contagious psychological disease, the wétiko psychosis.”
Forbes argues that this ‘wétiko psychosis’ can be contrasted with a healthy mind-state which was found among pre-colonization Native communities, and also in many poor and working class European populations and resistance movements:
“The Native people [who Columbus encountered and enslaved] were sane people with a healthy state of mind. Sanity or healthy normality among humans and other living creatures involves a respect for other forms of life and other individuals.”
This helps contextualize the fight to protect Thacker Pass, the fight against greenwashing, and the entire movement to protect our living planet. Our economic system rewards individualistic behavior that benefits individuals at the expense of the group, and this has elevated the most profoundly individualistic: sociopaths and narcissists.
For centuries, governments, corporations, and major institutions have been dominated by people suffering from wétiko pyschosis, a profound mental illness.
Their sickness predisposes them to use brutal, violent, and Machiavellian techniques to attain and maintain power, and this becomes a self-reinforcing feedback loop. They have built a sophisticated and powerful legal, military, and propaganda system to protect the status quo, which makes our work very difficult.
Change will require strategy, dedication, and sacrifice. It will also require a deeper understanding of the nature of power. Again, quoting Forbes:
“The wétiko psychosis, and the problems it creates, have inspired many resistance movements and efforts at reform or revolution. Unfortunately, most of these efforts have failed because they have never diagnosed the wétiko as an insane person whose disease is extremely contagious.”
That contagion is dangerous. None of us are immune. This is why all of humanity’s most lasting stories, from the Wendigo to Star Wars, tell of internal conflict. Whether you call it greed, temptation, evil, the Dark Side of the Force, or anything else, humans have the capacity for doing wrong.
This helps us understand how the environmental movement has been led astray, seduced by the lie that green technology can provide a modern industrial way of life while also saving the planet. Comforting lies — Bright Green Lies — are easy to believe.
Our movement is an intervention. This pattern will not change unless we take action. And doing right is contagious, too. That is why we took action at Thacker Pass, and why we are continuing forward. For the land, for the truth, for sanity, and in the faith that other people will do the same. Some have already been inspired to take action of their own because of what has happened here.
Finally, I want to thank everyone who has been a part of this. Whether your support has taken the form of volunteering, showing up for events, speaking out, donating, organizing, sharing information, offering food and other resources, creating art, taking direct action, or anything else, your actions matter. What we are doing here, together, matters.