Native Americans Are Praying Over Ancestors Graves. Now They're Facing Arrest.
I’m Max Wilbert, co-author of Bright Green Lies, founder of Protect Thacker Pass, and biocentric community organizer. I use this site to share strategies and explore topics such as sustainability, collapse, empire, resistance, activism, greenwashing, and justice. If you want more, you can subscribe.
Today I’m sharing a press release issued by the Ox Sam Newe Momokonee Nokutun (Indigenous Women’s Camp) at Thacker Pass.
OROVADA, NV — For nearly two and a half years, local Native American tribes and leaders have been trying to stop the Thacker Pass lithium project, an open-pit mine that will destroy a sacred site. But despite lawsuits, rallies, regulatory hearings, and community organizing, Lithium Nevada Corporation has now begun construction of the mine at the place Paiutes call “Peehee Mu’huh,” or rotten moon.
But the construction has not gone unopposed.
On May 11th, Native Americans from the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone and other regional tribes set up a Tipi at Thacker Pass and began prayers directly in the path of the construction of Lithium Nevada’s water pipeline. Groups of Native Americans and allies have blocked mine traffic from accessing portions of the construction site for over a week now.
Among those on the site is Dorece Sam, a member of the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe and President of the Native American Indian Church, State of Nevada. On Friday, Humboldt County Sheriffs served Sam with paperwork threatening her with arrest if she doesn’t leave the site.
“I’m being threatened with arrest for protecting the graves of my ancestors,” says Sam. “My great-great Grandfather Ox Sam was one of the survivors of the 1865 Thacker Pass massacre that took place here. His family was killed right here as they ran away from the U.S. Army. They were never buried. They’re still here. And now these bulldozers are tearing up this place.”
The prayer camp that was erected on May 11th has been named Ox Sam Newe Momokonee Nokotun (“Indigenous Women’s Camp”) in honor of Ox Sam and his descendants. Visitors from Native American tribes and other land protectors have circulated in and out of the site for the past week.
Another spiritual leader on the front lines has been Dean Barlese, a spiritual leader from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Barlese led prayers at the site on April 25th (which led to Lithium Nevada shutting down construction for a day) and returned on May 11th.
“I’m asking people to come to Peehee Mu’huh,” Barlese said. “We need more prayerful people. I’m here because I have connections to these places. My great-great-great grandfathers fought and shed blood in these lands. We’re defending the sacred. Water is sacred. Without water, there is no life. And one day, you’ll find out you can’t eat money.”
The 1865 Thacker Pass massacre is well documented in historical sources, books, newspapers, and oral histories. Despite the evidence but unsurprisingly, the Federal Government has not protected Thacker Pass or even slowed construction of the mine to allow for consultation to take place with Tribes. In late February, the Federal Government recognized tribal arguments that Thacker Pass is a “Traditional Cultural District.” But that didn’t stop construction from commencing.
Three other supporters have also been threatened with arrest over the past week — Protect Thacker Pass co-founder Max Wilbert, Community Rights U.S. founding director Paul Cienfuegos, and documentarian and videographer Chuck Banner. All three men are white and aren’t leaders of the Ox Sam Camp, but were present on-site following direction from Native elders. This targeting of non-Natives has led observers to speculate that Lithium Nevada CorporaHon is seeking to avoid discussing Native American concerns at all costs.
“This is not a protest, it’s a prayer,” said Barlese. “But they’re still scared of me. They’re scared of all of us elders, because they know we’re right and they’re wrong.”
On Thursday, a second Tipi went up a few miles from the first, and more supporters arrived at the Ox Sam Camp. With full-scale construction scheduled to begin in June, the conflict between so-called “green mining” and land and water protectors may be just getting started.
Thacker Pass is located in northern Nevada near the Oregon border, where Lithium Nevada Corporation is in the first phase of building a $2 billion open-pit lithium mine which would the largest of its kind in North America. The lithium is mainly designed for General Motors Corporation’s electric car batteries, which the corporation laughably claims is “green.” Mine opponents call this greenwashing and have stated that “it’s not green to blow up a mountain.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has granted Lithium Nevada corporation and all other business corporations a whole variety of constitutional “rights” that were never meant for business entities. Without these special so-called corporate “rights,” the mine owners would never have been allowed to construct this mine.
Three Native American tribes filed a new lawsuit against the Federal Government over Lithium Nevada Corporation’s planned Thacker Pass lithium mine on February 16, 2023, the latest legal move in the two-and-a-half-year struggle over mining, greenwashing, and sacred land in northern Nevada.
The Tribes notified the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on May 19th that they mean to appeal their Motion seeking a Preliminary Injunction which was rejected by a lower court in early March. Four environmental groups which lost their case in January have also appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and are expected to be heard in June.