Just 45 miles (72 kilometers) from the Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation where Daranda Hinkey and her family corral horses and cows, a centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s clean energy plan is taking shape: construction of one of the largest lithium mines in the world.
We have to be very careful when dealing with the intersection of tribal rights and the need for a green energy infrastructure. We also have to be careful to not just promote any voice on whatever side of political divides we might be on around a given issue, assuming that they Speak for the People. So when I read stories about some tribes people in Nevada talking about massive energy infrastructure being a new form of colonialism, I both completely agree on principle and need to hear more before evaluating the issue.
As heavy trucks dig up the earth in this remote, windswept region of Nevada to extract the silvery-white metal used in electric-vehicle batteries, the $2.2 billion project is fueling a backlash. “No Lithium. No mine!″ proclaims a large hand-painted sign in Hinkey’s front yard.
The Biden administration says the project will help mitigate climate change by speeding the shift away from fossil fuels. But Hinkey and other opponents say it is not worth the costs to the local environment and people.Similar disputes are taking place around the world as governments and companies advancing renewable energy find themselves battling communities opposed to projects that threaten wildlife, groundwater and air quality.
Hinkey, 25, is a member of the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe and a leader of a group known as People of Red Mountain — named after the scarlet peak that overlooks her house. The group says that in addition to environmental impacts, the Thacker Pass mine would desecrate a site where the U.S. Cavalry massacred their ancestors after the Civil War.
“Lithium mines and this whole push for renewable energy — the agenda of the Green New Deal — is what I like to call green colonialism,″ Hinkey said. “It’s going to directly affect my people, my culture, my religion, my tradition.”
Protests near the mining site have flared up for more than two years, and the project has sparked legal challenges, including an appeal that a federal court will hear this month.
Hinkey had hoped Interior Secretary Deb Haaland — the first Native American Cabinet member — might rally to the side of opponents. But that has not happened.
Haaland, whose department oversees Thacker Pass, said that while she supports the right to peaceful protests, her agency is in favor of the mine because “the need for our clean energy economy to move forward is definitely important.”
There’s no easy answers here. You can’t just dismiss the concerns of the tribes here. Otherwise, yeah, you pretty much are the heir of Andrew Jackson. But we also need to know a lot more about the general attitude toward this among the Paiute and Shoshone. In short, stories like this are useful and necessary but also have inherent limitations that we need to recognize. But yes, we need to understand that tribal rights and green energy are not the same thing, that green energy might sometimes trump tribal rights, and that if we say that green energy might sometimes trump tribal rights, we are engaging in another generation of dispossession and genocide.