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Experts say Indigenous sacred sites are increasingly under threat

A mountain valley with a road going through it on the left-hand side. There is another mountain range visible in the back.
Ian Bigley
Earthworks, Flickr
Image of Thacker Pass in northern Nevada looking toward Kings River Valley. It's a culturally significant Paiute site and the area in which a proposed lithium mine wants to build.

News brief

As the federal government weighs greenlighting controversial mining projects in places Indigenous peoples consider sacred – including the proposed lithium mine at Thacker Pass in northern Nevada and the proposed copper mine at Oak Flat in Arizona – a group of Native law experts warns that Indigenous religious freedoms and access to these sites are increasingly under threat.

That was the theme of a recent webinar hosted by the UCLA Native Nations Law and Policy Center.

“Court after court will say, ‘Even if this project would virtually destroy the Indian religion, that doesn’t stop the federal government from going through with the project,’” said Kristen Carpenter, the director of the American Indian Law Program at the University of Colorado. “So it’s really about power and domination more than it is a question about whether religion is really at stake.”

Carpenter, one of the webinar's panelists, advocates for all parties to negotiate during a conflict involving extractive industries, U.S. governments and tribes.

“It shouldn’t be the case that in every instance the federal government just uses its power to destroy the Indian religion," she said. "There should be negotiated solutions.”

When there isn’t consent, she added, litigation from these conflicts can be expensive and come with major Indigenous-led protests. Carpenter thinks federal agencies and private companies are starting to turn towards negotiation in order to avoid costly and prolonged legal battles.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2023 KUNM. To see more, visit KUNM.

Emma Gibson

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