Native American massacre site renews calls to halt Nevada lithium mine

Sep 14, 2022

On September 12, 1865, 31 Indigenous men, women, and children were massacred by government soldiers on Thacker Pass in Nevada. While there has been some debate about the exact location of the massacre, part of that history was recorded by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) own historical records and was recently affirmed by a land survey this past July.

Thacker Pass is spiritually and culturally significant to tribes in Nevada. It’s one of the few places in the Great Basin where tribal citizens can still gather traditional foods and medicines. It is also home to the largest known lithium deposit in the United States, a metal used in the manufacturing of batteries for electric cars.

Several Nevada tribes have gone to court in an effort to pause any excavation and construction at Thacker Pass by Canadian-based Lithium Americas, citing the 1865 massacre as justification to halt the mining proposal, though a federal judge ruled against the tribes last November.

“The September 12, 1865 Thacker Pass Massacre site is important and sacred to us primarily for the atrocity that happened there and the bravery our ancestors demonstrated in defending themselves from this unprovoked attack,” wrote Michon Eben, the cultural resource manager for the Reno Sparks Indian Colony, in a letter to the BLM.

Representatives of the BLM say that because the massacre site is on private land “outside BLM’s jurisdiction” its preservation is out of their hands. BLM land managers concluded that while several sites in the area may be eligible for National Register of Historic Places designation, none of the five sites uncovered during their survey were within the boundaries of the lithium project area.

In his letter to the BLM, Mr. Ebon said, “Just like preserving the landscape on the Gettysburg Battlefield at places like Little Round Top, Seminary Ridge, and Cemetery Ridge are essential to understanding the way the battle played out, it is important that the entire landscape where the September 12, 1865 massacre occurred be considered.”

Great Bend of the Gila Postcard and hearing

Archaeology Southwest and Respect Great Bend gave the Center for Western Priorities permission to include as one of our Road to 30 Postcards a beautiful short 6-minute film that illustrates the unique features and importance of protecting Great Bend of the Gila in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. As a source of reliable water and fertile soils, the region contains unique archaeological and historical sites with ties to at least 13 Indigenous tribes, as well as Spanish, Mexican, and colonial American history.

House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva introduced the Great Bend of the Gila Conservation Act in order to protect the unique and valuable cultural, historical, archaeological, and natural resources across 400,000 acres of the Great Bend of the Gila and Sonoran Desert landscape. The bill seeks to establish the 330,000-acre Great Bend of the Gila National Conservation Area, the 47,000-acre Palo Verde National Conservation Area, and nearly 60,000 acres of new wilderness. These designations will preserve important Indigenous artifacts, including rock art and carvings, remains of ancestral village structures, and geoglyphs. Chairman Grijalva’s legislation to protect Great Bend of the Gila will be included in a House Natural Resources Committee hearing today to review a series of bills that propose expanding Native American input on the management and use of federal lands that tribes consider sacred.

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Quote of the day

These things that we today call public lands are all former tribal homelands, and those lands have been taken out of their direct control, so it’s an opportunity through conservation and protection of these places to honor the values that the tribal communities have in this landscape.”

—William H. Doelle, Archaeology Southwest President & CEO, “On and Of the Land” film

Picture this

Great bend of the gila

On and Of the Land” film by Archaeology Southwest and Respect Great Bend. The film illustrates the unique features and importance of protecting Great Bend of the Gila in the Sonoran Desert and features Pee-Posh (Piipaash) elder Arnie Bread Sr. and his family, and archaeologists from Archaeology Southwest.

(featured image: Solidarity bike ride from Thacker Pass to Orovada, summer 2021. Credit: Earthworks, Flickr)