Eve of Destruction: Bureau of Land Management Sacrifices Native Site to Mining Group

Originally published by In These Times on 30th Sept 2015

 

surface_structures_459_320

An aerial view of the Hollister Underground Mine Project in the Tosawihi Quarries in Elko County, Nevada. Recently acquired by Waterton Global Mining Company/Carlin Resources, the site has long been regarded as sacred by Native people. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management, Elko District Office, Tuscarora Field Office, Nevada)

This isn’t the “new” world for the Western Shoshone. And their West was never “wild.” It is a place of deep cultural connections to a homeland that at one time extended across portions of Idaho, Nevada, Utah and California. For more than 10,000 years, they have met in what is today called the Tosawihi Quarries, a stretch of Elko County, Nevada, to gather a type of white flint and to practice their sacred rituals.

“That stone is very sacred to us,” says Joe Holley, chairman of the Battle Mountain Band of the Te-Moak Western Shoshone, one of several federally recognized, related tribes. “We use it every day and have done so for millennia, for tools, ceremonies and healing. The stone, the water, the entire place is sacred.” The word Tosawihi means White Knives, an ancestral Shoshone tribal name that ties the land and its features to their culture and identity. The Tosawihi Quarries has been deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and part of it was declared an Archaeological District in 2010.

However, gold lies under the flint, also called chert, and a multinational mining group wants it.

In 2013, Nevada-based Waterton Global Mining Company, owned by a firm registered in the Cayman Islands, bought a bankrupt gold-mining operation that had been exploring for and extracting gold in the Tosawihi Quarries. In March 2014, an official at a related Canadian private-equity firm, Waterton Global Resource Management, told Reuters it had been snapping up struggling U.S. mining concerns hurt by the several-year downturn in gold prices. Reuters quoted the firm’s chief investment officer as saying, “This year I think [acquisitions] will pick up dramatically.”

By 2014, mining operations had resumed on the Shoshone’s ancestral lands, and Waterton Global Mining Company had changed its name to Carlin Resources. The new work began in previously disturbed ground and moved out from there. “A drilling pad was built in a once-pristine area,” says Holley, “and several rock shelters were demolished when they pushed through a road.” On a recent trip to the area, he saw that several ancient stone hunting blinds, from which concealed hunters observed their prey, were gone. Tribal members report that workers have videotaped them when they visit.

The band has also expressed concern to federal authorities that the mining company does not have the required groundwater monitoring well in place. “This is critical,” says Holley. “At the center of all our ceremonies is water. It is the lifeblood of the universe.”

Mining was already engulfing the sacred landscape, says the Battle Mountain Band’s attorney Rollie Wilson, who works in the Washington, D.C. office of the Omaha law firm Fredericks Peebles & Morgan. “Now matters are getting worse. With important sites damaged or destroyed, tribal members are being pushed into an ever-smaller area.” Wilson has filed an emergency appeal with the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA), an Interior Department administrative court. It asks the court to suspend mining until a plan can be devised that safeguards the site.

In 1992 (on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first visit), protection of Native American cultural resources was added to the National Historic Preservation Act. Since then, federal agencies have been required to consult with tribes when mining, constructing dams, road building and other projects on federal land that could affect their traditional cultural properties (TCPs). These may include locations where culturally important practices occur, or occurred in the past, as well as structures.

This process is a part of the federal government’s trust relationship with the tribes, which requires the United States to protect Native treaty rights, land and other assets. In practice, tribes and their representatives regularly report that they aren’t notified early enough in the process to make a difference and when they do speak up federal officials don’t pay attention.

Holley says working with the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) can be like “talking to a wall.” As the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office puts it: The BLM can operate “unilaterally.”

Some officials may have a hard time understanding a complex Native cultural landscape like the Tosawihi Quarries, which has been subtly shaped for many centuries by a range of activities including ceremonies, tool making, medicine-plant gathering and hunting. “The concept of ‘cultural landscape’ emerged in the late 1980s, which really isn’t that long ago,” says Paul Loether, Chief of the National Register of Historic Places, a National Park Service program. As a result, Loether says, most evaluators are better at assessing an historic house than a tract of land, no matter what culture, Native or non-Native, shaped it.

Carlin Resources has less patience for the process than the Battle Mountain Band would wish. In Carlin’s legal response to the band’s attempt to temporarily halt drilling, the mining company said their IBLA appeal was based on “erroneous and sensationalistic assertions” that “the entire Tosawihi Quarries constitutes a TCP.” Carlin, in its brief, told the court that it had complied with all obligations and that the band’s ongoing objections had already caused it to run up substantial additional costs.

Because the Tosawihi Quarries are on federal land administered by the BLM, that agency handled the area’s TCP evaluation. Earlier mining had already taken a big chunk out of the Shoshone landscape, but Holley’s band hoped it could work with the BLM to prevent further destruction. “We were hoping to keep the mining out of what’s left of our most important areas,” Holley says.

To study and protect a landscape, archaeology is often the discipline of choice. At Tosawihi Quarries, the BLM focused on items of archaeological interest that might be saved—including what it termed “loci,” with more than 10 artifacts, such as stone tools, per square meter. The agency marked the items on maps, drew lines around them and told the mining company to stay at least 250 feet away.

“Archaeology is a great field,” says Loether. “But unfortunately, used that way, the result is like seeing the Mona Lisa’s smile, but not the rest of the painting. You can’t understand its beauty and meaning without considering the entire thing.”

“Mainstream science looks at sites differently from Indian people, who see the spiritual significance,” says Ted Howard, cultural resources director and member of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes.

With about 500 enrolled members and a 683-acre reservation that has “little economic activity,” according to its website, the tiny Battle Mountain Band has set itself a gargantuan task. “I grew up in this fight,” says Holley. “My grandfather, father and uncle all fought mining in the Tosawihi Quarries. I’ve lived my whole life hearing them talk about this.”

“Chairman Holley and the Battle Mountain Band have taken the lead in this struggle,” says Howard. “However, many of the Shoshone people came from or used that area. Now we are separated on different reservations, but that is not how we lived before the reservation era. Our shared oral history goes way back. And the Tosawihi Quarries are the center of our spiritual being.”

Photo: Joe Holley

Photo: Joe Holley

‘Smoking gun’ at the BLM

Sometimes, lack of understanding isn’t the only problem at a federal agency. Other interests can weigh heavily. In spring 2014, the BLM’s analysis of the mine project was still under review. It had yet to issue its final approval, or Record of Decision (ROD).

But then the mining company needed the gold—and fast.

According to public documents obtained by Rural America In These Times, Waterton contacted the BLM on Friday, March 28, 2014. It wanted the agency to issue the Record of Decision by the following Monday, March 31. A BLM official, Steph Connolly, the acting-senior special assistant to the director, notified colleagues of this request with an email headed “URGENT.”

Thomas Schmidt, a BLM geologist in a Nevada field office, replied, “I do not believe we have completely satisfied Tribe concerns.”

Another BLM geologist, Janice Stadelman, chimed in, warning against delay. “I received a call from Waterton’s legal counsel,” she emailed. “They are requesting that the ROD and approval be signed or dated no later than March 31 [2014]. March 31 is the end (last day) of the first quarter. … Waterton’s concern is with the first quarter auditing and financial reporting to there [sic] investors and the ramifications that they will encounter.”

By March 31, the ROD was signed, sealed and delivered. Thanks to the BLM rushing it through, the mining group had its gold and the window-dressing for its quarterly report. In May, Waterton issued a press release announcing a “significant permitting milestone” for the mine.

In response to a query from Rural America In These Times, BLM spokesperson Jeff Krauss described the permitting process as “robust” and “not hurried,” with full consideration under the law for the Battle Mountain Band’s concerns. He added the agency would continue to work with the band going forward. Further, according to Krauss, the BLM would require the mine’s operator to “implement sufficient monitoring and mitigation strategies in order to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of the lands” and its sacred sites.

Looking and listening

Educating officials, legislators and the public about responsible protection of our nation’s shared legacy is an “uphill battle,” says Rebecca Knuffke, public lands project manager for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a nonprofit chartered by Congress to safeguard our shared heritage places. Building awareness for a given site can help protect it, she says, pointing to the Trust’s National Treasures program, which describes campaigns to save places that are important to varied and sometimes multiple cultures.

In the case of a Native landscape, public awareness is handled very carefully, adds Denise Ryan, public lands policy director at the Trust. Such places may include vision sites, sacred springs, medicine-gathering areas and other geographic features that tribes consider private or secret. Like the Tosawihi hunting blinds and rock shelters, these fragile features can also be destroyed by vandals or inadvertently trampled by hikers. “In a protection plan, tribes don’t have to give us details. They just tell us what’s significant and what they require,” says Ryan.

Holley wants a complete review of the Tosawihi Quarries that accounts for subtleties that aren’t apparent to outsiders. “We Shoshone are the only ones who can say where these important things are,” Holley says. “Tosawihi is not a ‘prehistoric’ place, used only by long-ago people. We Shoshone have used all of it continuously for cultural and spiritual purposes since time immemorial.”

Meanwhile, gold mining operations continue.

Holley laments, “All those years of struggle, and we’re still losing ground.”

 

Related Posts

Series: Gendered Impacts of Resource Extraction
Seeking Justice for Rape, Murder & Repression in the Mining Industry: The Hudbay Minerals/CGN lawsuits
Protect Juristac! Join the campaign to protect Amah Mutsun sacred lands
Honouring A Sacred Connection: Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation says Yes to healthy people and environment, No to Ajax’s mine
Honouring Our Sacred Connection to Pípsell

Honouring Our Sacred Connection to Pípsell

  • Written on: 29 September 2017
  • Posted under: Videos
Resistance, exchange, (post)extractivism: YLNM Coordinators meet in Galicia- in photos
Mining and Resistance in Dinétah

Mining and Resistance in Dinétah

The light from Standing Rock: beautiful struggle shows the power of protest
Crested Butte celebrates as longest running mine battle in the West nears end
#AxeDrax: Campaigners unite for climate justice against coal and bioenergy-fueled deforestation
Standing Rock protests: this is only the beginning
First Nations across North America sign treaty alliance against the oilsands
Mining Leaves a Menominee Tribe’s Hallowed Sites at Risk
VIOLENCE ON THE LAND, VIOLENCE ON OUR BODIES: Building an Indigenous Response to Environmental Violence
Mining’s Toxic Legacy On Rivers

Mining’s Toxic Legacy On Rivers

‘Incredible News’ as Obama Pulls Plug on Offshore Drilling Plans
Mountaintop removal: country’s mental health crisis
Flin Flon Flim Flam

Flin Flon Flim Flam

  • Written on: 11 February 2016
  • Posted under: Videos
Ditch coal now! The global destruction caused by the UK’s coal power generation
Ditch Coal

Ditch Coal

At the Coalface: Ten more years of UK coal burning a lifetime on the ground
The Badger-Two Medicine Area: Too Sacred to Drill
TPP will harm campaign to protect tribal land from mining.
Bald Mountain protected from mining destruction in Maine, USA
COP21: Call for international recognition of rights of nature and communities
The Town That Stood Up to Coal

The Town That Stood Up to Coal

  • Written on: 24 November 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
Canadian indigenous, environmental groups urge Trudeau to reject Petronas project
Ottawa continues to pander to Canadian mining, despite endemic violence in local communities
Eve of Destruction: Bureau of Land Management Sacrifices Native Site to Mining Group
Shell leaves the Arctic!

Shell leaves the Arctic!

Indigenous Women Disrupt Tar-Sands Pipeline Consultation

Indigenous Women Disrupt Tar-Sands Pipeline Consultation

  • Written on: 25 September 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
Conservation Wins over Mining Exploration in Arizona’s Mountain Empire
Native Americans in DC: Obama Stop Leasing Lands for Fossil Fuels
Frontiers: Clean Water, Wild Places and Healthy Communities

Frontiers: Clean Water, Wild Places and Healthy Communities

  • Written on: 14 September 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
Local First Nations hosting own review of Mine

Local First Nations hosting own review of Mine

Our Resistance, Our Hope: Unity Statement of the International People’s Conference on Mining
Dispatches From the Edge of Change: Montana’s Fossil-Fuel Resistance
Oak Flat mining proponents act selfishly, short-sightedly and stupidly
Animas River Mine Spill: Tribes, Counties, Environmental Groups Unite to Prevent Future Mining Contamination
Colorado River Indian Tribes stand against extreme extraction
Diné confront McCain over Oak Flat & water rights

Diné confront McCain over Oak Flat & water rights

  • Written on: 21 August 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
The USA’s Toxic Mining Law of 1872

The USA’s Toxic Mining Law of 1872

  • Written on: 21 August 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
Earthworks and US Citizens Expose Fracking Pollution

Earthworks and US Citizens Expose Fracking Pollution

How American Indian Land Is Still Being Stolen For Mining

How American Indian Land Is Still Being Stolen For Mining

  • Written on: 28 July 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
US Silica Sand Mining Surge

US Silica Sand Mining Surge

  • Written on: 14 July 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
New Photos Reveal Extensive Damage Done by Ring of Fire Mining Exploration
Charleston Resident Barney Frazier speaks on Mountaintop Removal
Copper Miners Vs. Apache People – Fighting For Sacred Land
#AxeDrax: UK must end support for coal and biomass reaped from US and Colombia
Haida Raid: Save Our Waters

Haida Raid: Save Our Waters

  • Written on: 15 April 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
Common Frontiers: The Impact of Canadian Mining in Honduras
No Mining Bill

No Mining Bill

  • Written on: 08 April 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians

Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians

  • Written on: 08 April 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
A Hero Doesn’t Get Used To This

A Hero Doesn’t Get Used To This

  • Written on: 08 April 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
The Last Mountain

The Last Mountain

  • Written on: 08 April 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
I Couldn’t Believe My Eyes

I Couldn’t Believe My Eyes

  • Written on: 08 April 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
San Carlos Apache Leader: ‘What Was a Struggle to Protect Our Most Sacred Site Is Now a Battle’
Idle No More: Movement for Indigenous Sovereignty

Idle No More: Movement for Indigenous Sovereignty

  • Written on: 04 December 2014
  • Posted under: Campaigns
Honouring the River: How Hard-Rock Mining Impacts Tribal Communities
MiningWatch Canada: Reports
Understanding the Legal Framework for Mining in Canada

Start a Conversation. Share Words of Solidarity.

This website is about building a movement. We can only build a movement when we connect with one another. We invite you to do just that…

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *