Nevada Native American Community Advocates for Collaborative Efforts Over Litigation in Defending Sacred Sites Amidst U.S. Energy Developments

by Ethan Kim
Nevada tribe sacred sites

Native American leaders from various parts of the United States recently convened in Washington to discuss President Joe Biden’s achievements and new initiatives intended to strengthen relationships and safeguard sacred locations. However, Arlan Melendez, chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, chose a different approach, hosting a separate gathering thousands of miles away. His objective was to explore alternative methods to combat the U.S. government’s endorsement of a large lithium mining project at a site marked by the massacre of numerous Paiute and Shoshone ancestors in 1865.

Confronted with consistent legal challenges, Melendez expressed the need for a change in tactics, moving away from litigation to save these sacred sites.

The Nevada tribe’s new strategy aligns with the Biden administration’s emphasis on improved collaboration with Native American communities. This includes increased federal funding access, integration of tribal perspectives in land conservation, and resource management. The government has also boosted spending on infrastructure and health care in Indian Country. Several tribes have seen benefits, notably in the creation of new national monuments and the prohibition of new oil and gas exploration in New Mexico to protect important cultural sites.

However, tribes like the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and the Tohono O’odham Nation in Arizona remain skeptical. They perceive the promised cooperation as superficial, especially in cases involving large-scale renewable energy projects. Instead of continuing legal battles over the Thacker Pass lithium mine, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony is now focusing on forming a broad coalition to garner public support for protecting sacred places.

Concerns are rising among tribal members that more culturally significant areas could be threatened by the surge in demand for lithium and other materials crucial for fulfilling Biden’s clean energy goals.

Melendez, initially enthusiastic about Deb Haaland’s appointment as the first Native American cabinet secretary, expressed disappointment in her declining an invitation to visit the massacre site, feeling overlooked despite the significance of the lithium project.

The tribe’s attorney, Will Falk, encouraged other tribes to remain vigilant and not be overly optimistic about changes in policies just because of Haaland’s position. Although the Interior Department, represented by spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz, asserts strong communication and partnership with Nevada tribes, skepticism remains.

The federal government’s recent guidelines on sacred sites have been met with mixed reactions. While acknowledging the acknowledgment of long-standing tribal concerns, critics like Falk view these as non-binding and potentially ineffective.

Tribal leaders, like Justin C. Ahasteen of the Navajo Nation’s Washington office, see some progress in these guidelines but urge for more substantial measures, including legal acknowledgment of tribal consent in federal decision-making.

Morgan Rodman, executive director of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, defended the guidelines as a step towards enhanced tribal engagement, emphasizing ongoing policy development and training efforts.

Despite these efforts, ongoing legal challenges, such as those faced by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony over the Thacker Pass project, highlight the complexities and limitations of current policies and practices.

Tribal historic preservation officer Michon Eben emphasizes the broader historical and cultural significance of the entire area around Thacker Pass, not just specific sites, in the ongoing struggle for recognition and protection.

Melendez acknowledges Biden’s commitment to improved consultation but remains cautious, emphasizing the need for meaningful action beyond mere promises.

This report includes contributions from Susan Montoya Bryan of Big Big News, reporting from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Nevada tribe sacred sites

What is the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony’s new strategy in response to the U.S. government’s approval of a lithium mine?

Instead of continuing legal battles, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony is shifting its focus to forming broad coalitions to build public support for the protection of sacred sites.

How does the Biden administration plan to work with Native American leaders?

The Biden administration has committed to better collaboration with Native American communities by making federal funding more accessible, integrating tribal voices into land conservation and resource management, and increasing spending on infrastructure and health care in Indian Country.

What concerns do tribal members have regarding the U.S. energy agenda?

Tribal members are worried that culturally significant areas will be threatened by the increased demand for lithium and other materials needed for renewable energy projects, part of the Biden administration’s clean energy agenda.

What is the significance of Deb Haaland’s appointment for Native American communities?

Deb Haaland’s appointment as the first Native American cabinet secretary was initially met with enthusiasm by tribal leaders like Arlan Melendez. However, there has been disappointment over perceived inaction in cases like the lithium mine at Thacker Pass.

How effective is the new federal guidance on dealing with sacred sites?

The new federal guidance aims to involve tribes early in project planning to protect sacred sites. However, some tribal leaders and attorneys remain skeptical about its effectiveness and legal binding, viewing it as potentially non-binding and insufficient.

More about Nevada tribe sacred sites

  • Biden Administration’s Native American Policies
  • Reno-Sparks Indian Colony
  • U.S. Energy and Tribal Lands
  • Deb Haaland’s Role in Interior Department
  • Federal Guidelines for Sacred Sites
  • Lithium Mining and Indigenous Rights
  • Navajo Nation’s Response to Federal Policies
  • Thacker Pass Lithium Project
  • Western Shoshone Defense Project
  • White House Council on Native American Affairs

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Dave87 December 25, 2023 - 2:47 pm

i feel like the part about Deb Haaland was a bit harsh, shes in a tough position balancing so many interests.

TommyG December 25, 2023 - 7:10 pm

interesting how the tribe’s changing its strategy, not just sticking to lawsuits, but is building coalitions, a fresh approach.

Emily_H December 26, 2023 - 12:05 am

good read but there were some typos, like ‘coalitions’ was spelt ‘colitions’ in one paragraph, just a heads up!

SaraK December 26, 2023 - 7:40 am

this is a complex issue, I think the article could’ve delved more into the historical context? especially about the 1865 massacre.

MikeJohnson December 26, 2023 - 7:59 am

really interesting article, but isn’t the focus too narrow on just one tribe? there are many others involved in similar struggles.

LindaS December 26, 2023 - 9:38 am

the article says ‘lithium mine at Thacker Pass’, but doesn’t explain why this site is so important, could use more info here.


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