By Lisa J. Wolf
Crescent Valley, Nevada
The day before Thanksgiving at 11 a.m. the call came to cover the Shoshone Grandmother’s Day of Resistance on Mt. Tenabo at the Cortez mine site. To reach the place where the Western Shoshone Grandmothers were protesting Barrick Cortez’s uprooting of trees and “devastation and destruction” on Mt. Tenabo, as they termed it, required driving some ten miles out from Crescent Valley and a trip up the winding dirt Grass Valley road past the entrance to the mine at the base of the mountain and straight up the curving mountain road for miles. Dave Mason of Barrick Cortez directed the press to look for a parked group of cars and trucks. A natural wood wickiup on the hillside beyond the parking area amongst the juniper and pine was empty. Fresh footprints were seen on a trail leading up the mountain. Following that trail for some 10 minutes, the Western Shoshone protestors were encountered. The Grandmothers accompanied by Shoshone men and children held signs and spoke to the Barrick representative present, George Fennemore.
The Western Shoshone grandmothers told the Barrick employee, “This is our treaty land. It was a treaty made with the federal government. It was not made with a foreign nation. And it is a foreign mining company that has come into our country and is destroying our mountain, our land, our food, our medicine and they have no respect.”
Mary McCloud said she was “here to make my statement against what is happening. Yes, back in the 1800s there was mining but it was only by hand and pick.” McCloud reiterated, “This is treaty land and we have never given it up and furthermore Mr. Schack [External Communications Manager for Barrick] says the majority of the Shoshone people is ‘okaying’ the mining company. Let Mr. Schack show us the document that shows the majority of the Shoshone people. They don’t have that. They do not have any document to prove that they own this land. That’s all I have to say but I’m saying it on behalf of my grandchildren, and my great grandchildren.”
Shoshone Elder Bernice Lalo said, “I came here because from our beliefs that we practice here on the land, we’re protesting because they will be destroying the pine trees which is very important to the land. We’re protesting because this is our land. No two ways about it; and when they come and destroy things, they’re destroying our spirituality, our ways, our beliefs” for “our children, our children’s children. So, we’re all here to protest that” because “it can’t go on. It’s perpetrating genocide against the Native American people. And we are not the only Native people suffering this distress. It is happening world over; but we happen to be Western Shoshones and this is our land and we’re protesting the poisoned water, the destruction of the land, the road we’re standing on here, the big machines: everything that the mining industry stands for. They say they’re doing it responsibly, but they’re not because when they leave the Western Shoshone people will still be here and the land will be barren.” Lalo said, “They reclaim something, but only with weeds and mounds like a big burial ground and that’s what they’re leaving us. And they’re never going to clean it out.”
Carrie Dann told Fennemore, “We want the tree cutting stopped now,” explaining, “That’s our food.”
Fennemore told the Grandmothers it was a normal day for him and that his work was in getting permits from the BLM.
The Grandmothers told Fennemore, “This isn’t BLM land. This is Shoshone” and challenged Barrick to “come to us per your treaty with the US government.”
Mary Gibson asked the Barrick employee, “What are you leaving for your grandchildren? Where is your heart? Where is that? Do you understand how important this is? This is our life.”
Dann said, “When you destroy the earth, where is the food coming from?”
One of the Grandmothers suggested, “You guys go and tear down the Vatican, the Mormon Tabernacle” which “actually have things stored. Because that’s what you’re doing to us for gold.”
In response to statements made in a November 21st article in the Elko Daily Free Press which stated, “Barrick Gold, meanwhile has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars assisting Western Shoshone improve lives through enhanced education, health and wellness programs.”
In the article “Schack and tribe members” are quoted as saying “tribal gatherings were not held at the site until Barrick began exploration.”
Dann told Fennemore, “You don’t know where we gather because we don’t leave anything.” Dann called on Barrick and the US government to “sit across the table and talk to us.” Dann said, “This is wrong” and said the tree cutting and mining “should be stopped peacefully now” as the activity is “destroying our culture, destroying our spirituality.” Dann called on Barrick to “call the woodchoppers off” and to “sit down and talk to us about what’s going on.” Dann said, “Some areas that will be totally off no matter how much gold, or silver, or uranium or whatever it takes because that is the area that we didn’t set; that was set by something else, something higher than us. And this is one of the areas: this whole area around here; and yet you guys come in and you’re destroying it. You’re destroying under ground, you’re destroying above ground. Don’t you guys have any conscience?”
Another Grandmother pointed out, “And it’s not replaceable.”
Mary Gibson asked, “What do you guys feel? You’ve got to feel some compassion for the earth. You’ve got to realize what you’re doing. Don’t you lay awake at night or are you just counting the bucks? Is that all? You just want to line your pocket and you’re just getting a portion of it in comparison to what the corporations are making: you’re just getting a little piece of that.”
Bernice Lalo said, “Last week, there was a news article in the paper about Barrick and Barrick dialogue and how different” Shoshone “signed-off on your collaborative agreement and Barrick said, ‘If you don’t sign this collaborative agreement, you will not be getting any funds from here.’ That was economic blackmail and the people who signed that agreement, they are people that are not affected by mining. That mining is not in that area; so the people that you are working with and said ‘yes’ and you guys had a big write-up on it, wasn’t true. And Lou Schack said that the majority of the Western Shoshone were covered by that and how you had spent thousands and thousands of dollars on the Western Shoshone; that’s not a true statement and when he said the majority of the Western Shoshone people agreed with that concept, that was not a true statement. So when you guys print things like that in the newspaper and you make it sound like you’ve done the Western Shoshone a big favor, it’s not true either.”
Lalo reiterated, “Those people do not represent the majority. Those people stand to have some economic benefit from that, and we don’t and we still are saying ‘no’ and we’ll be at your dialogue meeting and we’ll tell you the same thing because that’s something that has been promised until now; and the one thing that we had asked for that Barrick had talked about was ‘cultural resources:’ that was number one on our list when we started, that was three years, four years ago; but that has never been addressed.” Lalo held up a piece of wood and said, “Cultural resources is this stick. Cultural resources is those pine nuts. Cultural resources is the place where we had our prayer this morning. And we even had people tell us, we started to pray sometime; then one of the people sort of made fun of us and said, ‘Is this going to be a cultural resource? Is this going to be a significant area. Damn right.”
Dann agreed, “Every area is significant. It’s not just one little area.” Shoshone have “been doing this long before the white people ever came,”Dann said, “Long before there was ever mining. My grandmother used to live down in here. This is where my family came from. This is my family’s area. Many of my family is buried in this area. Their bones are in here. You people don’t give a damn about whose bones are here. You don’t care who lies here.” Dann challenged Barrick: “Why don’t you go to the national cemetery in D.C. and start destroying it and see what would happen to you. That’s what you’re doing to us. Because we’re Indians. You call us Indians, and then because of that you can walk over us. You call us heathens. We have more prayer than you ever know.”
One Grandmother explained, “We pray for you the hardest. We come up here and ask our Creator for forgiveness for hating the mining company.”
Gibson asked the Barrick employees, “What have you got to say for yourself?”
Fennemore answered, “We’re here to listen.”
Filmmaker George Gage (Our Life, Our Land; American Devastation) who had driven from out-of-state at Dann’s request was shooting footage for possible inclusion in the American Devastation film, asked Fennemore if he could “say something as a Caucasian. This is so important to these people. It goes back to their roots and they have a connection with the earth. I personally looked at the Treaty of Ruby Valley, which maybe you’re not aware of; but in that treaty it’s declared Shoshone land, all this land. That Treaty has never been cancelled.” Gage noted that “treaty gave us White people permission to do a certain of mining, to move civil war troops; but mining then was pick and axe. It’s not this giant desecration of the earth. I’ve shot aerials going over these mines: they’re just enormous and that earth will never come back; and I don’t know how as a White person I can convey how important what a connection that I wish I had that they have to the land and it’s so important to them. It’s important to me but nothing like it is to them. This is their heritage, this is their spirituality. This is Mother Earth. It may sound corny to a lot of White people: ‘Mother Earth;’ but it really is Mother Earth to a lot of Native Americans; especially this particular group of Western Shoshone. I wouldn’t be out here donating my time, spending my money, if I didn’t feel a real commitment and feel I’m learning from them. As a White person I learn from them.” Gage thanked Fennemore for “listening.”
Fennemore answered, “Any time. Any time you want to be here, you’re welcome to come up.”
Dann asked, “What kind of commitment are we going to get on the tree cutting?”
Fennemore said, “I’m not going to lie to you. We’re going to continue to cut trees unless somebody produces a court order that says to stop.”
Dann said, “We are the keepers of the land and the keepers of the land is asking in a nice way to quit. This is just a small group of us” but, said Dann, “Your mines shouldn’t be surprised when we really sit down to organize and get people together. It’s not going to be just Americans, or American Indians; it’s going to be world-wide and your company’s do operate world-wide and what happens here, if you want it to happen here; it can start here, and then it can expand and you can tell your company men that they should have the dignity to sit across the table from us, talk to us; but be sure to bring along a government person, someone who’s in the U.S. government, in a high place that can talk and where their words can stick. But,” said Dann, “in the meantime we are going to go down and do something where they are pulling those trees out. They should not kill those trees. Those trees are alive just like you are. They have a heart; they have a spirit just like you have and they are being destroyed because they are the food for the future. They’re our food” and “food for everybody and yet it’s being destroyed. For what? For a brick of gold? If you can eat that brick of gold, I’d like to see you eat it. If you can drink that brick of gold, I’d like to see you drink it. Because everything that comes from the earth is useful.” Dann pointed out, “Everything you’ve got on comes from the Mother.” Dann said if “somehow someway” you “have these things you have that don’t come from the earth, then I can say you’re probably pretty independent from the earth and you can go ahead and destroy it; but when everything comes from the earth,” Dann said, “You have no right to destroy our lands. These are sacred lands. Our lands, the Western Shoshone land area is sacred because every bit of the land gives somebody food.”
As Dann walked down the road to look at more of the clear cutting, McCloud told Fennemore, “You’ll leave us and leave us with the poison. What comes around, goes around. And you’ll leave a pit” which “will fill up with water.” The Grandmother pointed out, “Mother Earth’s trying to tell you, ‘wake up;’ but you guys aren’t waking up. I don’t know what it will take to make you wake up.”
Gibson said, “You treat us as if we’re nothing; as if we’re creatures.” She told them, “You came to a country that was clean” while “where you go, we find plastic; we find beer bottles. We know where you people have been because you don’t respect our Mother Earth.”
As the Shoshone grandmothers witnessed the devastation on the Sacred mountain, a rain began to fall. “The tears of the Mother,” said one Grandmother as the others nodded.
Attorney Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project reported on Sunday November 30, 2008 that on Monday, December 1st there is “just a hearing for a request for a temporary restraining order, an emergency order to stop things.” Flynn explained the “judge can do what he wants” and can issue an order for “a couple of weeks” while legal briefs are being prepared for a motion on a preliminary injunction.” Flynn said, “If we got the preliminary injunction granted that would stop things for a much longer period. The mine would be enjoined and stopped while the court ruled on the merits and that could take months or years.” Flynn will participate in the hearing by phone although he expects the company attorney from Reno to be there as well as the lead attorney from the Justice Department. Flynn characterized the hearing Monday as an emergency meeting.