To Senator Jeff Merkley,
My name is Ka’ila Farrell-Smith, I’m an enrolled member of the Klamath Tribes of Oregon, I reside in Chiloquin, Oregon. I am writing to ask you to stop urging President Joe Biden to sign an executive order of the Defense Production Act to expediate Lithium mining of Indigenous and tribal sacred landscapes, ancestral homelands. I am a professional artist, environmental activist. My father, the late Alfred Leo Smith (1919-2014), plaintiff in the 1994 Amendment to the Native American Freedom of Religion act, is a survivor of Chemawa Indian Boarding School and the Stewart Indian Boarding school, circa mid 1930’s. I traveled as a child to Ft McDermitt for Sundance and Native American church ceremonies with my father. I am deeply concerned about the drastic environmental and cultural impacts of the Jindalee Lithium mine (a foreign Australian corporation) proposed lithium mine at Ft. McDermitt Tribal reservation on the Oregon and Nevada border. Proper, respectful, and thorough consultation will need to be conducted with the Indigenous Tribes and Sovereign Nations whose sacred ancestral lands this lithium deposit resides within, to get true consent. This is required by the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Consultation is not consent.
According to a petition brought by Fort McDermitt tribal members to the tribal council, tribal members have sacred connections with the area known as PeeheeMu’huh (Thacker Pass). Just south of the McDermitt lithium deposit on the Oregon side is another lithium mine proposed by a foreign Canadian corporation Lithium Americas. Both of these sites (Disaster Peak and Thacker Pass) are sacred to the Northern Paiute, Bannock, and Western Shoshone tribal peoples and are historic cultural sites of their ancestors escaping a massacre by the US government in the 1860’s. The petition states the mine will destroy sacred burial grounds; will eliminate traditional ceremonial and spiritual medicine including toza; will destroy ceremonial roots, berries, and plants; and will disturb 12 golden eagle nests, deer, rabbits, sage grouse, Lahontan cutthroat, and essential ceremony old growth sage brush that tribal members need for survival.
In 2019 and 2020 the state of Oregon and/or Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) gave permits to a foreign corporation to dig holes on sacred tribal lands without consultation of the Ft McDermitt Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone, Burns Paiute, and the Klamath tribes. There needs to be a public comment period before the corporation begins digging the next 39 holes DOGAMI permitted recently.
Jindalee completed nine diamond drill holes during the September 2019 quarter with all holes intersecting substantial thicknesses of lithium mineralisation over a much larger area, leading to both a significant increase in the ETR at McDermitt and estimation of a maiden Inferred Mineral Resource in November 2019. The Inferred Mineral Resource was 150Mt @ 2,000ppm Li (0.43% Li2O) at 1,750ppm Li cut-off while the ETR was calculated at 180-330Mt @ 1,800-2,200ppm Li (at 1,750ppm Li cut-off).
In late 2020 Jindalee completed 15 drillholes of a planned 21 hole program at McDermitt. The program was designed to infill and upgrade the Inferred Mineral Resource, and test for resource extensions. The program was extremely successful, with every hole intercepting significant broad zones of mineralisation including MDRC015 which was located 1.6km beyond previous drilling.
In the investigative reporting done by the Washington Post titled,
“Tossed Aside in the ‘White Gold’ Rush: Indigenous People are left poor as tech takes lithium from under their feet,” it is revealed that this trans-national corporation Lithium Americas is a partner in the Minera Exar Chilean lithium corporation mining on sacred Indigenous lands (called Pachamama in Quechua) in South America. It was estimated in the story that Minera Exar would make about $250 million annually from the Cauchari-Olaroz mine. Despite this, Minera Exar’s contracts with six local communities promised only tiny amounts of money once production had started. For Example, while Minera Exar was likely to make $250 million a year from the mine, they would only pay $9,000 to the local town of Catua; $12,000 to Susques; $25,000 to Puesto Sey and Huancar; $47,000 to Olaroz Chico; and $59,000 to Pastos Chicos.
Here are some excerpts from the investigative reporting. The land is sacred to the Atacamas:
Jujuy started formalizing land titles for indigenous communities in 2003, making it one of the first provinces to do so. Yet problems persist. Fifty miles from the Olaroz-Cauchari salt flats, also in Jujuy, indigenous groups have been fighting for six years to prevent lithium mining of the picturesque Salinas Grandes salt flat.
“Our grandparents taught us that this is a sacred place. It’s part of the Pachamama,” said Nelda Lamas, 26, of Santuario de Tres Pozos, near Salinas Grandes. The Pachamama is the Incan goddess of the earth, revered by many indigenous people. “That’s why we don’t want to see this place destroyed.”
Recently, mining interest in the Salinas Grandes has renewed. And the provincial government said it intends to allow lithium mining there in the near future.
Signing, then Regretting:
The Post sought to speak to several of the community leaders in the six villages who signed the Minera Exar agreement.
Yolanda Cruz, one of the leaders of the village of Catua, said she signed the contract with Minera Exar but now regrets it. At the time, she valued the opportunity to create jobs for her village. But she now worries “we are going to be left with nothing,” she said.
“The thing is that the companies are lying to us — that’s the reality. And we sometimes just keep our mouths shut,” she said. “We don’t say anything, and then we are the affected ones when the time goes by.”
Senator Jeff Merkley, you need to respect and protect Native American and Indigenous rights as is internationally required by the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Stop urging President Joe Biden to sign an executive order of the Defense Production Act to expediate Lithium mining of Indigenous and tribal sacred landscapes, ancestral homelands.
Ka’ila Farrell-Smith (Klamath Modoc)
MFA, Hallie Ford Fellow 2021, Fields Artist Fellow 2019-2020