Story at a glance
- Local activists are protesting the construction of a lithium mine at Thacker Pass in Nevada, one of the largest lithium deposits in the world.
- Lithium can be used to power rechargeable batteries for things like electric cars.
- Activists understand the need to move away from fossil fuels, but say lithium mining is not the most sustainable solution.
Dozens of local activists and Native American tribe members in Nevada are camping out at Peehee Mu’huh, or Thacker Pass, to protest the extraction of lithium from one the largest deposits in the world.
The Bureau of Land Management in January approved the Thacker Pass Lithium Project, granting Lithium Americas and its subsidiary, Lithium Nevada, exclusive rights to mine there, despite the fact that it’s home to one of the local community’s most sacred sites.
“It’s like putting a lithium mine on Arlington cemetery. It’s just not fair,” Daranda Hinkey, of the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone tribe in Nevada, told The Guardian. Hinkey and others say Thacker Pass is the site of an 1865 massacre, where at least 31 tribe members were killed.
“We are not leaving until this project is canceled,” Max Wilbert, of the Protect Thacker Pass campaign, told Inside Climate News last month. “If need be, this will come down to direct action. We mean to put ourselves in between the machines and this place.”
Lithium Nevada says its working closely with tribal leadership to conduct cultural preservation work at the site of the proposed mine, a company official told Changing America
There is currently no evidence of human remains on the land, but Lithium Nevada is allowing for discovery and protection should remains be found, the official said.
A Nevada federal judge in November gave Lithium Nevada the green light to continue with its construction plans, ruling additional historical accounts provided by two Native American tribes did not meet the necessary criteria to pause operations.
“Evidence did not show a massacre occurred within the project area, especially considering that there has been significant ground disturbance within the project area for some time that had never located any human remains,” Judge Miranda Du wrote in her decision.
Lithium can be used to power rechargeable batteries for things like electric cars, and mining it can be a lucrative opportunity for those looking to benefit from the electric vehicle revolution.
“It’s a game changer,” Tim Crowley, the vice-president of government affairs and community relations at Lithium Nevada, told The Guardian. “It’s absolutely essential if we’re going to make America competitive and minimize the geopolitical challenges that we face in relying on other sources [of lithium].”
While there is a need to move away from fossil fuels, people like Hinkey believe that lithium may not be the best alternative.
“A lot of environmentalists will argue that we do need that lithium, we do need that electric car. But I don’t think they’ve thought about the outcome of all of that [mining],” Hinkey said. “What ancestral homelands, what Indigenous lands are they taking from?”
“We want people to understand that ‘clean energy’ is not clean,” Wilbert said. “We’re here because our allegiance is to the land. It’s not to cars. It’s not to high-energy, modern lifestyle. It’s to this place.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Dec. 4 to reflect comments from Lithium Nevada and include court documents from Bartell Ranch LLC v. McCullough.
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