Profits before Natives

By Woodard, Stephanie | In These Times, December 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Profits before Natives


Woodard, Stephanie, In These Times


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 once extended across portions of Idaho, Nevada, Utah and California. For at least 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 use it in spiritual ceremonies.

"That stone is very sacred to us," says Joe Holley, a tribal council member of the Battle Mountain Band of the TeMoak Tribe of Western Shoshone, one of several related, federally recognized tribes with links to the Quarries. "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."

However, gold lies under the flint, and a multinational mining group wants it. In 2013, Nevada-based Waterton Global Mining Company, owned by a firm registered in the Cayman Islands, which is advised by a Canadian private-equity firm, Waterton Global Resource Management, bought a bankrupt gold-mining operation in the Tosawihi Quarries.

By 2014, mining had resumed on the Shoshones' ancestral lands. The new work began in previously disturbed ground and moved out from there. "Drilling pads are being built in oncepristine areas," 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 hunters observed their prey, were gone.

The Battle Mountain Band has set out to halt this encroachment-a gargantuan task for the tiny band with about 500 members and a 683-acre reservation. "My grandfather, father and uncle all fought mining in the Tosawihi Quarries," says Holley. "I've lived my whole life hearing them talk about this."

"The Battle Mountain Band has taken the lead in this struggle," says Ted Howard, cultural resources director and member of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes. "Our shared oral history goes way back. And the Tosawihi Quarries are the center of our spiritual being."

In 1992, protection of Native American cultural resources was added to the National Historic Preservation Act. Federal agencies are now required to consult with tribes when issuing permits for mining, gas pipelines and other projects on federal land that could affect traditional cultural properties.

Because the Tosawihi Quarries are on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, that agency handles the area's evaluation for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Properties and the protection that can mean. Holley calls working with the BLM like "talking to a wall."

The band's attorney, Rollie Wilson, says the BLM simply doesn't respond when Battle Mountain Band members inform the agency of impacts on culturally important sites. Instead, he claims, the agency continually tips the balance toward mining by ignoring cultural standards while protecting those areas that meet mathematical criteria, such as the number of "flakes" produced by arrowhead-making per square meter.

Sometimes, outside interests weigh heavily on federal agencies. In spring 2014, the BLM had yet to issue its final approval for the mine project, called the Record of Decision (ROD). But the mining company needed the gold-and fast.

According to public documents obtained by In These Times, the BLM was in an uproar on Friday, March 28, 2014. Waterton (later Carlin) wanted the ROD by the following Monday, March 31. …

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