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Newcomb: Bush permits desecration of Mt. Tenabo for gold mining

Despite years of well-voiced opposition from traditional Western Shoshones, the Bush administration, by-way-of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), approved a massive open-pit, cyanide heap-leach gold mine at Mount Tenabo.

Mt. Tenabo, not far from the Dann Family Ranch where elder Carrie Dann lives, is an area of tremendous cultural and spiritual significance to the Western Shoshone nation. It is home to their creation stories, spirit life, medicines, food and ceremonial plants, and items that the Western Shoshone use for their spiritual and cultural practices.

Disregarding the mountain’s value to the Western Shoshone, the Bush Administration, working through the Bureau of Land Management, finalized permits for Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation to blast and excavate a new massive open pit at the south flank of Mt. Tenabo.

The pit will be some 900 acres in size and more than 2,000 feet deep. The mining operation will result in approximately 1,577 million tons of waste rock, 53 million tons of mill tailings, and 112 million tons of spent heap leach material. A massive groundwater pumping station will drain water from Mt. Tenabo to keep the area dry during mining. Pipelines will be installed to transport water away from Mt. Tenabo.

In March and September, 2002, and again in 2003, the Bush Administration’s Department of Interior used armed BLM agents, helicopters, all terrain vehicles and large cattle trucks to begin “confiscating” (stealing) livestock from Western Shoshone lands, while Western Shoshones and their supporters were threatened with arrest. Between 2002 and 2003, hundreds of Western Shoshone cattle and horses were taken from the land in the area of Mt. Tenabo. The U.S. government sold the Western Shoshone livestock for pennies on the dollar, and the Western Shoshones never compensated for the property.

We can now surmise that billions of dollars in gold is the reason why the Bush Administration wanted Western Shoshone livestock taken away from Mount Tenabo.

We can now surmise that billions of dollars in gold is the reason why the Bush Administration wanted Western Shoshone livestock taken away from Mt. Tenabo. However, at the time of the livestock thefts, the BLM tried to justify its actions by claiming that the Dann Family (Mary and Carrie Dann) and other Western Shoshones, such as Raymond Yowell and Myron Tybo, were illegally grazing their cattle and horses on U.S. “public land” without a U.S. federal grazing permit.

To justify the armed raids and confiscation of Western Shoshone livestock, the BLM also claimed that the Western Shoshones livestock were “overgrazing” and that this was having a negative effect on the land. While the BLM used the “overgrazing” argument to feign concern for the well-being of the land, it is now evident that gold was the real motive behind the Bush Administration’s actions.

For their part, the traditional Western Shoshones argued that they didn’t need federal permits to graze their cattle and horses on Western Shoshone lands. They pointed out that the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley between the Western Shoshone Nation and the United States recognized their territorial boundaries, and their cattle and horses were being grazed on Western Shoshone lands within those boundaries.

The federal argument about “overgrazing” is ludicrous when one considers the massive amounts of water that Barrick Gold Mining Corporation will drain from Mt. Tenabo in the process of gold mining. That dewatering process, along with the massive excavations and resulting tons of waste, will have a far greater negative impact on Western Shoshone lands than a few hundred head of Western Shoshone cattle and horses ever could.

The Bush family is no stranger to the Barrick Gold Corporation. As BBC reporter Gregg Palast has documented, at the end of the George H.W. Bush presidency, the Interior Department enabled Barrick Gold to secure the approval of a massive gold mining claim on Western Shoshone lands. The claim was for an estimated $10 billion in gold within the area of the Treaty of Ruby Valley. Because of the 1872 Mining Act, Barrick paid less than $10,000 for the claim, just about $5.00 an acre.

Then, in May 1995, Barrick Gold Corporation announced a new international advisory board under the leadership of George H.W. Bush. The former president became Barrick’s chief lobbyist, a Barrick shareholder, and honorary senior advisor to the corporation’s international board. George H.W. Bush stepped down from the board in 1999; in June of that year his son George announced his candidacy for the White House.

When the George W. Bush administration came into power in 2000, Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev) and Jim Gibbons (R-Nev) assisted Barrick Gold and other gold mining corporations by ensuring that the Western Shoshone distribution bill was pushed through Congress. In June 2004, after the bill was passed by Congress, President Bush promptly signed it into law. The bill was designed to make it appear as if the Western Shoshone have already been compensated for lands they had and still have no interest in selling. The traditional Western Shoshones have steadfastly rejected any money for the lands described in the Treaty of Ruby Valley.

It is in keeping with the Bush administration’s view of the “rule of law” that it would completely ignore the Treaty of Ruby Valley between the Western Shoshone Nation and the United States. The Bush administration has also ignored two separate international rulings in favor of the Western Shoshones, one by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the other by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Given the record of the Bush administration, it should come as no surprise that it would work to benefit Barrick Gold of Canada, a company that has had proven ties to the Bush family.

Steven Newcomb (Shawnee/Lenape) is the indigenous law research coordinator in the education department of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, a columnist with Indian Country Today, and author of “Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery” (2008, Fulcrum).

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