Above Photo: The tipi at Ox Sam Camp, illuminated at sunrise. Chuck Banner.
Indigenous land defenders erect a tipi, forming Ox Sam Camp at PeeHee Mu’huh (Thacker Pass) Nevada.
The site of a proposed lithium operation.
Peehee Mu’huh, Nevada – On Thursday, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s department issued a final warning to Indigenous land defenders at Thacker Pass. Members of law enforcement are demanding that the land defenders vacate a service road leading into the lithium mining operation. The Indigenous land defenders have erected a tipi on a proposed water line, set to feed lithium development at the rate of 500,000 gallons for every ton of lithium processed.
Dorece Sam, an enrolled member of the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, spoke during a Facebook livestream on Friday, saying “Mother’s Day is coming up. This here is our mother – Mother Earth, and we want to protect her. We want to stand in unison with everybody. Bring your medicines, bring your prayers and good thoughts. Grandmother says this is the start of a new camp. It is called (Ox Sam) Newe Mogonee Momokonee Camp, meaning Indian Women’s Camp.” Ox Sam was one of three members of the Paiute tribe who survived the 1865 massacre.
PeeHee Mu’huh (Thacker Pass) is traditional, unceded land of the Paiute and Shoshone. It is also the location of the lithium mining operation owned by Lithium Americas Corp. The territory is not part of any treaty lands ceded to the United States; thus Paiute, Shoshone and other tribal nations assert the land is still legally their country.
The tipi was erected to support a ceremony which will last four days. Upon completion of the ceremony, a camp will continue to press Indigenous land claims to the unceded traditional territory; which is currently occupied illegally by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and leased to Lithium America.
The ceremony was authorized by Indigenous Grandmother Josephine Dick, a Paiute Elder from Fort McDermitt Reservation; along with Dean Barlese, an Elder of the Pyramid Lake Paiute-Shoshone; and Dorece Sam. Supporters are invited to come and pray with them; to come and stand with Mother Earth. Most of Josephine’s remarks were in her Native Paiute language and were translated on site. She prayed for relatives from all over, from sunrise to sunset, to come support and join in prayer.
Dean Barlese said, “Like my auntie said, we’d like supporters to come out and pray with us. Stand here and be strong with us. We just need more people to be out here. We can stop this. We have the tipi here standing up. We have the fire going. We’re just asking for supporters to come pray with us. No matter if you go to church. Locals can come, the ranchers can come if you oppose this. They’re going to take your water, they’re going to dry it up.”
Also present is Lakota attorney and activist Chase Iron Eyes, who spoke during the Facebook livestream; saying that he came “At the invite of our elders, on behalf of the Lakota Nation and some of the spiritual leaders back home… they’re sending their voices here for our relatives. They sent the canvas for the tipi. It meant a lot for us to help put this tipi up for ceremony.”
These direct actions come at a time when Indigenous sovereignty and land rights are under attack in the United States Supreme Court. Indigenous Nations of Turtle Island are currently awaiting the verdict for Haaland v. Brackeen, which threatens to up-end the Indian Child Welfare Act.
As for PeeHee Mu’huh, former President Barack Obama attempted to preserve the traditional site from further mining based on the fact that the land is home to the sage grouse, an endangered species. To the Paiute, Shoshone, and other regional tribes – PeeHee Mu’huh is a place of reverence; where two historic massacres occurred. Attorney Will Falk, representing Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, says that ancestral remains are scattered throughout the site of the proposed mining operation.