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Native Americans Ask Court to Stop Gold Mine on Sacred Mountain

by Lisa J. WolfEnvironment News Service
June 6th, 2009

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Wednesday on whether the Canadian corporation Barrick Gold will be allowed to construct and operate an open pit gold mine on Mt. Tenabo in Nevada. The mine is planned on lands that are culturally and spiritually significant to the Western Shoshone native people.

The plaintiffs, three tribal groups and two conservation organizations, are seeking a preliminary injuction to stop expansion of an existing Barrick gold mining operation onto Mt. Tenabo, spelled Mt. Denabo by the native people. If the court grants the injunction, the merits of the case will be argued later in U.S. District Court in Nevada.

A group of Western Shoshone people gathers medicinal plants on Mt. Tenabo. (Photo courtesy Global Actions Against Barrick)

Barrick's existing Cortez gold mine is located 60 miles southwest of Elko, Nevada in Lander County.

According to government documents, the Barrick mine expansion, known as the Cortez Hills Project, would disturb 10 square miles of land.

Barrick Gold plans to blast a new mine pit into Mt. Tenabo nearly two miles long, over a mile wide, and half a mile deep, and in addition construct an underground mine tunneling almost a mile into Mt. Tenabo.

The company plans to construct a large cyanide heap leach processing facility, dump over 1.5 billion tons of mine waste on Mt. Tenabo, and pump over 16.5 billion gallons of groundwater from Mt. Tenabo to keep the pit dry for mining.

Barrick's pumping of water for gold production could lower the water table 1,600 feet and result in the complete elimination or substantial loss of water in at least 15 springs and seeps and one perennial stream.

Western Shoshone Grandmother Joyce McDade said, "Denabo has significant meaning for Western Shoshone. It means the writing on the rock walls of the mountain [White Cliffs] put there by our Creator."

"We go to pray to our Creator to give us strength to keep us going. How can we pray to our Creator when the place in being blown up? Water at Mt. Denabo must be protected to sustain life and peace on Mother Earth. Water is sacred. Water is life," said McDade.

On November 8, 2008, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management approved the construction of the gold mine on Mt. Tenabo. In January, the U.S. District Court in Reno, Nevada denied a preliminary injunction sought by the native people that would have stopped mining operations at Mt. Tenabo.

In bringing the appeal, the plaintiffs, South Fork Band Council of Western Shoshone of Nevada, Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians of Nevada, Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, the Western Shoshone Defense Project, and Great Basin Resource Watch hope the appelate court will overturn the Reno court ruling.

John Hadder of Great Basin Mine Watch said, "The mining industry needs to recognize that there are some places where it is not appropriate to mine. I think that people across the U.S., and around the world, are appalled by the destruction of a sacred site just so Barrick, a multi-national corporation, can make more money."

"The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has put this Canadian company's economic interests over the rights of the Western Shoshone who have lived sustainably on these lands for thousands of years," said Hadder.

"The situation at Mt. Tenabo makes clear the need for reform of the U.S. 1872 Mining Law," he said.

Hundreds of pages of briefs and thousands of pages of documents have been submitted to the court, but the hearing will last just 30 minutes with each side making its case in 15 minutes.

"An injunction would stop the mine while the case goes back to the district court in Reno. A final decision on the merits could take another year or two," said attorney for the plaintiffs, Roger Flynn.

"The Ninth Circuit ruling will be critical on the legal issue of whether the BLM has the authority to deny such a destructive mining project in such an important place," said Flynn.

A Native American ceremony with prayer and song beginning at 7:30 Wednesday morning will precede the hearing.


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