Three Native American tribes have filed a new lawsuit against the Federal Government over Lithium Nevada Corporation’s planned Thacker Pass lithium mine, the latest move in what has become a two-year struggle over mining, greenwashing, and sacred land in northern Nevada.
The lawsuit, filed by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Burns Paiute Tribe, and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe in Federal District Court on Thursday evening, includes three major allegations.
First, the tribes claim that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) withheld crucial information from the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office and lied about the extent of tribal consultation in order to secure legally-required concurrence about historic properties in Thacker Pass.
Second, the tribes allege that Lithium Nevada, with BLM’s complicity, lied about terminating a set of older permits for mining-related activities in Thacker Pass. Further, the tribes say that the BLM has, without notifying tribes or the public, expanded the scope of previous permit authorizations dozens of times, allowing Lithium Nevada to conduct preliminary mine construction activities that are harming traditional cultural properties in Thacker Pass.
Third, the lawsuit argues that the BLM lied about consulting with Tribes before issuing their Record of Decision, and that the agency has continually refused to acknowledge both oral and written histories presented by the Tribes about the sacredness and cultural significance of Thacker Pass.
In total, the lawsuit asserts that the BLM has violated the Federal Land Policy Management Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act, and is also guilty of Breach of Contract.
This lawsuit comes just one week after Judge Miranda Du ruled largely in favor of Lithium Nevada and the BLM in a prior consolidated case involving claims brought in 2021 by environmental groups, a local rancher, and two Native American tribes (the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and the Burns Paiute Tribe).
However, that case only considered events and information prior to January 15, 2021, when the BLM issued the Record of Decision (ROD) — the main Federal permit — for the Thacker Pass lithium mine project. Tribal claims were curtailed by this limitation, which blocked key evidence from being heard — evidence that is integral to the new case.
The new lawsuit is also strengthened by the addition of the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, one of the Tribes that the BLM claims to have consulted with prior to issuing the ROD. Summit Lake and both other tribes the BLM claims to have consulted (the Winnemucca Indian Colony and Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe) have disputed BLM’s assertion that any consultation took place. (The Winnemucca Indian Colony filed to intervene in the previous court case, but was blocked from taking part by Judge Du, for seeking intervention too late in the case.)
All three litigating tribes hold Thacker Pass, known as “Peehee Mu’huh” in the Paiute language, as a sacred and culturally important site which has been used for gathering edible and medicinal plants, hunting and fishing, conducting ceremonies, camping, and everyday lifeways of Paiute and Shoshone peoples. Many oral histories, passed down for generations among regional Native American communities, tell of the significance of this area.
Thacker Pass is also the site where two massacres of Paiute people took place – one which occurred prior to colonization as part of an inter-tribal raid, and a second which took place on September 12, 1865, when Federal troops massacred between 31 and 50 Paiute men, women, and children in a surprise attack at dawn.
Much of this history has been assembled for the first time in a comprehensive ethnological report commissioned by the Reno Sparks Indian Colony and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, which is titled “Thacker Pass/Peehee mu’huh: A Living Monument to Numu History and Culture.”
The tribes submitted that report to the Department of the Interior on February 3rd as part of an application to list both the 1865 massacre site and the whole of Thacker Pass, which tribes are calling the “Thacker Pass Traditional Cultural District,” under the National Register of Historic Places. (Numu is what the Northern Paiute call themselves.)
The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony formed a federally recognized government in 1936 under the Indian Reorganization Act. Located in Reno, Nev., the RSIC consists of over 1300 tribal members from three Great Basin Tribes – the Paiute, Shoshone and Washoe Tribes.
The RSIC is a vibrant, diverse organization, which balances traditional teachings and rich culture with contemporary business methods.
Their mission is to offer opportunities for tribal members to improve their lives and enhance tribal values by making community programs, services, and projects available, while educating the public about their history, culture and modern lifestyle.