Western Shoshones Protect Sacred Mountain
November 23, 2008
Shoshones files suit to stop gold mine
BY MARTHA BELLISLE
Days after the federal government approved one of the largest open-pit gold mines in the country, a group of Shoshone tribal members filed a federal lawsuit to stop the project, saying the mine is planned on the slopes of a sacred mountain that is used for religious and cultural purposes.
"The area is home to local Shoshone creation stories, spirit life, medicinal, food and ceremonial plants and items and continues to be used to this day by Shoshone for spiritual and cultural practices," the groups said in a statement.
If the Cortez Hills project, located on Mount Tenabo in Lander County south of Battle Mountain, is allowed, "Western Shoshone religious and cultural uses of the mine site will be permanently eliminated," said the suit, filed against the U.S. Department of the Interior and the federal Bureau of Land Management.
Roger Flynn, a lawyer representing the Shoshone groups, said although the project is located on public land, the federal government is obligated to respect the fact that the site "has been used for centuries as a focal point of Shoshone religious practices."
But Lou Schack, a spokesman for Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corp., which owns the Cortez mine, said the suit and its claims lack merit.
"There has been mining on Mount Tenabo since the late 1800s," Schack said. "Given the difficult economic situation in Nevada, there were hundreds of people who were thankful that we got the go-ahead. We are proud to say that northeast Nevada is stable because of the mining industry."
About 300 jobs were created in the Elko area over the past three years because of the Cortez mine, he said, and the company plans to add another 100 as the project goes forward, bringing the total jobs to about 800.
Gerald Smith, the district manager of the BLM's Battle Mountain field office, who is named as a defendant in the suit, said the agency completed a permitting process this month that included an environmental impact statement.
"I was the delegated officer, and I did sign the record of decision to move forward with the mine," he said. "It will be very lucrative for the mine, and will create a great deal of jobs in the area. The economic impact will be positive."
"But since this is litigation, I'm not at liberty to divulge any information," he added.
According to the suit, the project will cover about
6,571 acres of federal land and 221 acres on land owned by Cortez.
"The mine would blast and excavate a new massive open pit on Mount Tenabo, covering over 900 acres to a depth of over 2,000 feet, several new waste disposal and processing facilities (including a cyanide heap-leaching facility), expansions of existing mine pits," among a list of other new features, the lawsuit said.
"How are we, as a nation, showing our values, if we allow a transnational corporation to destroy this 'church' for all time, just to get 10 years worth of gold," said Larson Bill, vice-chairman of the South Fork Band Council of Western Shoshone of Nevada. "There are dozens of active gold mines on Western Shoshone lands already; there is no need for this one, which is clearly immoral and irresponsible."