Down and Dirty: Destruction Accelerates at Ancient Native Site

This article appeared in Indian Country Today Media Network in 2016. For more on topics like this, see my book, American Apartheid: The Native American Struggle....

Members of the Battle Mountain Band of Te-Moak Western Shoshone visited the Tosawihi Quarries on June 22 to view and pray over the remains of a doctoring trail that leads into and through the sacred site. The trail, which has been declared eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, is a critical feature of a northern Nevada cultural landscape that the Western Shoshone and other tribes have used for more than 10,000 years.

However, construction of a mining-related power line along the doctoring trail is in the process of obliterating it. Starting about two weeks prior to the June 22 visit shown here, a road has been bulldozed over the spiritual pathway, and a long trench has been gouged across the face of a nearby hillside.

Battle Mountain Band council member and former chairman Joe Holley said that when tribal members saw what was happening, they were horrified and speechless. “It is so much damage,” Holley said, adding that the extent of the destruction seemed gratuitous. “It feels like they are doing more than necessary to build a power line. Just ripping up the land.”

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which administers the land the Tosawihi Quarries and the trail sit on, allowed this phase of construction to proceed, despite ongoing long-term litigation over the project.

The Band’s attorney, Rollie Wilson, of Fredericks, Peebles & Morgan, has told Indian Country Today Media Network that if a full panel of Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judges does not step in quickly, as the Band has requested in its most recent court filings, an exceptional place that Shoshones have called central to their culture will be entirely destroyed.

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) an independent federal agency charged with overseeing the nation’s historical resources, would not comment on the threat. Spokesperson Matt Spangler referred ICTMN to ACHP’s website, which describes the importance of tribal expertise in assessing protection of tribal places, among other topics. The website also says that the ACHP’s job is “to encourage federal agencies to consider preservation in planning federal projects.” As a result, its recommendations are just that.

Spangler also told ICTMN that on the Tosawihi project the ACHP was deferring to the BLM, which is the lead federal agency on the project. At press time, the BLM had not responded to requests for a comment.

“What drives them to constantly deface and destroy?” Holley asked. “That’s so hard for us to understand.”

Text c. Stephanie Woodard; photos courtesy Battle Mountain Band of Te-Moak Western Shoshone.

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