Can We All Just Get Along? A Mining Company and a Tribe Say “Yes”

A version of this article first appeared in Rural America In These Times in July 2017

On August 18, a gold-mining company will hand over some 3,000 acres of ancient sacred sites to the Western Shoshone. The date will be marked with dancing, drumming, prayers and food, according to Joseph Holley, shown left. He is a councilman and former chairman of the Battle Mountain Band of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshones, in Nevada. Though most of the gift will remain just as the Western Shoshone ancestors left it, a campground is planned for a small portion of the tract in order to facilitate visits by community and school groups.

Paul Huet, the chief executive officer of Klondex Mines, shown right, will speak on the occasion of the transfer, explaining how his Canadian firm purchased the acreage in order to give it to those who cherish it as part of an age-old heritage that finds meaning in the land. The Battle Mountain Band will hold and administer the tract on behalf of all Shoshones, Holley says.

Huet is also looking to make his company’s gold mine, which is several dozen miles from the tract to be transferred, as low impact as possible—working only underground and beginning reclamation on an open pit that was created by previous mining companies in the area. Klondex employees are coordinating with medicine men and other tribal experts, including Holley, who is the company's community liaison, to ensure that their work does not harm nearby artifacts and sacred places—medicine-plant gathering areas, vision-quest sites, healing springs, ancient rock shelters (shown below), rock hunting blinds from which hunters would watch for prey, prehistoric campsites, and more.

The mining industry should take note, says Huet: “A mine and a tribe can work together. It is a matter of listening, just listening.”

“The approach Klondex seems to be taking is much more responsible and progressive than we normally see,” says Jamie Kneen, communications and outreach coordinator of MiningWatch Canada. Kneen added that the investment Klondex has made in working with the community indicates that the company is serious about its concerns for culture.

Neither the tract to be transferred, nor the larger cultural landscape that surrounds it are on a reservation, so there isn’t a resident tribe that can protect them. Federal agencies haven’t proven much help, allowing much damage by previous companies in the area, so this time the Western Shoshone are going it on their own. Holley sees the new cooperative relationship, between the mine and the interested tribes, as an expression of tribal sovereignty.

The nation, which is at a divisive moment in its history, could learn something, according to Huet. “I feel so privileged to have been a part of this. Two groups that should be at odds are partners. Other groups can also reach out, listen to each other, and find a way to cooperate.”

Text c. Stephanie Woodard; photographs taken in Tosawihi c. Joseph Zummo. Photograph of Paul Huet courtesy Klondex Mines.

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