The site of the future Kiewit Mine Project, a proposed 105-acre open pit mine located four miles southeast of Gold Hill, is also an important religious site for nearby Native Americans, tribal advisors say.
The site happens to be located within the heart of the ancestral Goshute homeland, said Monte Sanford, an environmental advisor to the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, which is located about 15 miles west of the proposed mine site.
The area is not only an important corridor for migrating elk — and therefore the site of some of the tribes’ traditional elk hunts — but also contains important cultural resources and artifacts, Sanford said.
The Bureau of Land Management’s 230-page Environmental Assessment acknowledges that there is a “lithic scatter” of unknown aboriginal origin within the project site, near a proposed haul road, and recommends that miners avoid the area.
The BLM approved that environmental assessment on Jan. 7, potentially clearing the way for development at the site, which includes 43 acres of federal land. But Spokane, Wash.-based developer Desert Hawk Gold Corp. must first wait out a 30-day appeal period.
After the appeal period, the company must obtain a bond with the state of Utah before it can begin operations at the mine.
Ed Naranjo, tribal administrator for the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, voiced the tribes’ concerns to the BLM prior to the project’s approval, submitting 22 pages of objections to the thoroughness and conclusions of the Environmental Assessment. Those comments were recorded within the final Environmental Assessment document.
Writing on behalf of the tribes, Naranjo asserted that the proposed site was “critical for our water resources, plants used for traditional purposes, and big game that we rely on for food and economic benefits.” He accused the BLM of downplaying the damages the project could cause the tribes, and of falsely asserting that the project did not violate tribal laws or policies.
“As a telling example of BLM’s emphasis on Tribal resource impacts,” he wrote, “the BLM used at least three times as much text in the [draft Environmental Assessment] to describe impacts and mitigation on livestock grazing as they did on all cultural resource impacts and mitigation, excluding entirely any disclosure of impacts on our Tribe.”
The BLM later admitted that its statements about conforming with tribal law were inaccurate and had them removed from the final Environmental Assessment. They also added a section addressing Native American Religious Concerns to the document.
“Tribal consultations have revealed there may be areas within or near the project that could have deep religious value,” the section concludes. “However, the Tribes have not provided the location, vicinity or description of those areas to the BLM.”
Sanford said he was unable to confirm whether there were specific religious or sacred sites within the proposed mine area, and said only that there were artifacts within the area to which the tribe attached value.
“Their [the BLM’s] conclusions are not always the conclusions the tribes would make,” he said. “The tribes have a different view of what is important.”
Sanford said the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation also objected to the way in which the BLM attempted to negotiate with the tribes. As acknowledged by the Environmental Assessment, a government trust requires the BLM to meet with the tribes on government-to-government terms to discuss actions that might impact the tribes.
Both the BLM and the tribes acknowledge that the BLM attempted to contact the tribes. However, Sanford said the tribes had hoped to meet directly with BLM decision-makers, rather than field agents.
Additionally, Paul Tsosie, legal council for the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, said that the BLM’s practice of mailing notices of recent actions on the environmental assessment had caused problems for the tribes.
“All they do is send out a notice, and it gets buried under tribal paperwork,” he said. “And then the projects get approved.”
The tribes also voiced concerns about the mine’s potential impacts to wildlife and groundwater in the area.