The Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation has appealed the approval of an open-pit mine and cyanide leaching operation on land the tribes say contains cultural and religious resources.
The Long Canyon Mine, located about 30 miles west of Wendover, was approved by the Bureau of Land Management early last month. The site, according to the BLM’s Environmental Impact Statement, contains a total of 308 known cultural, religious or historic resources protected by the National Register of Historic Properties.
Of those, the document states, “103 NRHP-eligible or unevaluated sites would be directly impacted through project construction/operation.”
However, the EIS concludes, “there are no known potential places of cultural and/or geographic interest to the tribes within or near the project area.”
The issue up for debate, said Madeline Greymountain, chairwoman for the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, is not the existence of the artifacts discovered at the proposed mine site, but whether those artifacts are significant to the Goshute tribes.
“To my interpretation, the findings there are very significant, and they [the BLM] are pooh-poohing it like it’s nothing,” she said.
Greymountain said the tribes have been involved with the Long Canyon project from its beginning in 2013. At first, she said, the tribes weren’t opposed to the project because they didn’t believe there were any important artifacts at the site. But more information became available that suggested the site once had far greater significance to the Goshute and Shoshone tribes.
“As time went on, more and more cultural significance came to light,” Greymountain said. “We tried to work with them, but instead what they did — I can’t speak for what happened on their end — but from our perspective they just plowed ahead anyway.”
That the artifacts remain in their present location is important to the tribes, Greymountain said. The tribes had attempted to work out a deal with the mine’s owner, Newmont Mining Company, to have the artifacts moved to a nearby location that would not be disturbed by the mining operation.
Negotiations were going well, Greymountain said, but the BLM issued its decision on the proposal before negotiations were finalized. At that point, she said, the whole deal fell through.
The tribes’ current understanding is that the BLM plans to have the artifacts removed and shipped to a Federal holding facility in Reno, said Paul Echo Hawk, tribal attorney for the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation.
“These areas are sacred to the tribes,” he said. “Having them in their original state is an important part of the tribes’ feeling on the site, and to have these artifacts removed — it’s disturbing.”
The tribes had also been negotiating a data-sharing arrangement that would have given them access to all information gathered during the BLM’s investigation of the site, but had been unable to arrive at terms that the tribes felt did not compromise their sovereignty, Greymountain said. Those negotiations likewise fell through when the BLM issued its Record of Decision on April 7.
Officials with the BLM declined to comment on the case due to the ongoing appeal and litigation process.
The appeal, as well as a request for a stay that would stop the mine project from progressing pending the appeal process, will be reviewed by the Interior Board of Land Appeals. The board will have 45 days to review the appeal and issue a decision.
In the case that the appeal is denied, Echo Hawk said the tribes are prepared to take their case to a federal district court for a second opinion.
It’s an expensive battle, but Greymountain said the tribes feel it is a battle they need to fight to preserve their cultural heritage and their history for future generations.
“Money can only buy so much. In our case, we’re protecting the past, and we’re talking hundreds and hundreds of years,” she said. “We know what we’re fighting for.”
The Goshute tribes filed a similar appeal last year against the decision approving the Kiewit Mine Project, a105-acre open pit mine located four miles southeast of Gold Hill. The mine’s location was also an important religious site for the tribes, tribal advisors said.