A lithium mine is being constructed on Nevada land that’s culturally important to Native Americans. The project by Lithium Americas is at Thacker Pass, where on Sept. 12, 1865, United States soldiers massacred Native Americans, killing up to 50 people, according to the Guardian.
Now, 158 years later, the Thacker Pass area has been identified as having the country’s largest lithium lode. But members of tribal communities who consider the land sacred told the Guardian that they have been left out of the discussion as the operation moves forward, a point contested by the company on its website.
“All the people here on the reservation were not consulted when this mine was approved,” Dorece Sam, a descendant of one of three survivors of the massacre, told the newspaper.
Why is lithium important?
Lithium is a key part of batteries that power electric vehicles and other tech. Much of it is refined on the other side of the world, with Australia and China among the leaders. The U.S., however, is among the global leaders in underground lithium reserves, with more than 13 million tons, according to Visual Capitalist, an online data collector.
Proponents of mining the untapped U.S. reserve cite the need to gain independence from China for lithium and other metals, a goal marked at the highest level of our government.
Lithium mining, however, can be invasive. Native Americans interviewed by the Guardian said that since it’s happening on sacred land, it’s an invasion of the highest order.
“You can’t blow up a mountain and call it green,” Max Wilbert of Protect Thacker Pass said in a press release quoted on the Sacred Land Film Project website.
What’s the impact?
Mining at Thacker Pass is projected to use about 1.7 billion gallons of water, producing more than 66,000 tons of lithium a year, per the Guardian.
Company officials claim on their website that the project has been planned for a decade with input from tribal leaders. They plan to permanently employ 500 people for at least 40 years, generating $8 billion in tax payments during the mine’s lifetime.
At least two tribes have lawsuits filed against the project. However, tribal historic preservation officer Michon Eben told the Guardian that activity on the land is already disturbing.
“So, if any tribes or anybody wanted to mitigate that destruction, what are we going to mitigate?” Eben said to the newspaper, noting frustration with the court system.
What’s being done to help?
Noninvasive lithium mining, or alternatives to the metal for use in batteries, is in the works in labs worldwide. The right solution could eliminate the need for mining, or lithium, altogether.
To help Native Americans protect Thacker Pass, you can research their story. The Sacred Land Film Project has several ways to help, including fundraising, calling media and officials, and sharing the story on social media to highlight the cause.
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