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 grounds. 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 family and recently I've traveled to Ft McDermitt to support People of Red Mountain who are deeply opposed to mining exploration on their ancestral homelands. 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. Currently Jindalee's subsidiary HiTech Minerals has been given a water permit for their Lithium Exploration Plan of Operation, despite a short period for public comment during the summer of 2023. HiTech Lithium's plan of Operation would disturb up to 100 acres of public lands with over 30 miles of roads and 267 exploration drill sites for minerals in the northern McDermitt Caldera. The Bureau of Land Management should not approve the McDermitt Exploration because expanded exploration for lithium on public lands in the McDermitt Caldera would cause substantial damage to protected species habitat, water resources, and Indigenous cultural resources. The HiTech Lithium Exploration Plan of Operation is not in the public interest.
McDermitt Creek and its tributaries provide important habitat for the federally threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout. For decades, state and federal agencies, local landowners and public lands users have undertaken restoration efforts to establish a metapopulation of the species in this system, which is the only location capable of supporting a resilient and diverse population in the larger management unit that spans Nevada and Oregon. In many streams, inputs of cold, clean groundwater are critical to maintaining the streamflows and cool water needed by these fish. Oregon should not authorize groundwater pumping when it lacks adequate data to understand the impacts on Lahontan cutthroat trout habitat.
Oregon is in the midst of a decades-long drought, with southeastern Oregon being particularly affected. In six of the last ten years, Oregon’s Governor has declared a drought emergency in Malheur County, underscoring the severity of water shortages in the region.
Without adequate data, it is impossible to determine whether or not HiTech’s proposed well, even temporary pumping for five years, would have no detrimental or adverse impacts to water availability or quality available in the McDermitt Creek basin.
HiTech’s application for a temporary well is just the first of what are anticipated to be many other requests to follow for both temporary wells and huge diversions to support mining operations in the region. I am concerned about the potential impacts of well development and groundwater extraction on the environment, economy and the future of my community (including people who rely on domestic wells for drinking water and household use).
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