RENO, Nev. — A U.S. federal judge has ruled that additional historical accounts two tribes submitted to prove their claim a lithium mine is on sacred lands where their ancestors were massacred in 1865 still falls short of evidence necessary to temporarily block any digging.
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du refused the request by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and the Oregon-based Burns Paiute Tribe to reconsider her Sept. 6 ruling denying their bid to halt completion of an archaeological survey required before construction of the mine can begin near the Nevada-Oregon line.
“While the court agrees (the) additional evidence further highlights the shameful history of the treatment of Native Americans by federal and state governments, it does not persuade the court that it should reconsider,” Du wrote in her ruling issued on Nov. 8.
She said the newly discovered evidence is “too speculative” to warrant a temporary injunction blocking collection of cultural artifacts.
Lithium Nevada Corp.’s construction is scheduled to begin earlier next year at Thacker Pass, about 230 miles northeast of Reno.
It would be the largest lithium mine in the nation. Lithium is a key component in electric vehicle batteries. Demand for the mineral is expected to triple over the next five years.
The company plans to have a contractor dig trenches to gather samples for the archaeological survey across about a quarter of an acre (a tenth of a hectare) and has pledged to halt all operations if any human remains are found.
The tribes have accused the U.S. Bureau of Land Management of violating historic preservation laws by failing to consult with them about an Historic Properties Treatment Plan guiding the initial archaeological dig required before mine construction can begin.
They argue the sacred lands could be “irreparably harmed," which Judge Du said they had failed to prove when she ruled against them in September in federal court in Reno.
The new evidence the tribes submitted Oct. 1 included an 1865 newspaper report in The Owyhee Avalanche and two eyewitness accounts of how at least 31 Paiute men, women and children were “murdered by federal soldiers” at Thacker Pass.
The accounts were in an autobiography first published in 1929 by Bill Haywood, a well-known American labor organizer. One was from a cavalry volunteer who said he participated in the slaughter and the other by a tribal member who survived it.
Du wrote in her ruling that the new evidence “does not definitely establish that a massacre occurred within the project area.”
She said that previous digging in the area in recent years never uncovered any human remains “and there are plans in place to address the discovery of human remains in any event.”
Lithium Nevada said the government’s review of the plans has included “substantial consultation” with local tribes, including the Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone tribe, that had no objections to the archaeological dig.
“As the specialists complete the cultural mitigation work, we are committed to working closely with the Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone tribe who will monitor the work and ensure artifacts are protected and preserved in a way most suitable to tribal interests," the company said Thursday in a statement emailed to The Associated Press.