In the latest salvo in a long-standing dispute with the world’s largest gold mining company, Toronto-based Barrick Gold, the South Fork Band Council of Western Shoshone, the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, the Western Shoshone Defense Project, and Great Basin Resource Watch filed a legal complaint on November 21, 2008. The objective of the legal action is to stop construction of the Cortez Mine expansion onto the lower flanks of Mount Tenabo.
The Western Shoshone and environmental groups oppose the mine on the grounds that it would irreparably harm an area of cultural and spiritual significance, damage springs and aquifers in a water-stressed area, and infringe on Newe Segobia, the traditional Shoshone territory.
Mt. Tenabo rises from a flat arid plateau and 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.” (Western Shoshone Defense Project Press Release, November 21, 2008). Part way up the mountainside, where a little more moisture falls, the slopes are covered with piñon pine, a traditional food source for the Western Shoshone. While the US Bureau of Land Management recognises that top of Mt. Tenabo as an important cultural and spiritual area, it also supports open-pit and underground mining around the base of the mountain. The expansion would directly affect 6,800 acres.
Work at the site has already begun with the removal of piñon pines – the first step in making way for the mine. Concerned about damages that might be done before their case gets to court, Western Shoshone elders went to the site to protest and establish a camp.
For its part, Barrick supports its “legal and social licence to operate” with reference to an unsuccessful Supreme Court land claim case and agreements with some of the neighbouring Shoshone communities for funding of educational, business, and employment projects.
In July, Canada Program Coordinator Ramsey Hart had the honour of visiting Newe Segobia (Shoshone Territory) and Mt. Tenabo as a participant in the Indigenous Environment Network’s biennial gathering. He carried sage from Mt. Tenabo back to Ontario and offered it to the Ardoch Algonquin during their ‘Pray for the Land’ event in October.