Federal Court Meditates on Mining on Places of Worship
Mt. Tenabo, Nev. – Tribal drums will be heard outside the federal courthouse in San Francisco today, in a case that pits the federal government's ability to assign mining rights against Native Americans' rights to protect their places of worship means.
At issue in South Fork Band Council vs. the United States Department of the Interior is a huge open-pit gold mine, operating on sacred tribal ground in Nevada.
Joyce McDade, a grandmother and member of the Western Shoshone Tribe, relied on the water from this sacred area to treat her cervical cancer. She believes it's wrong for the U. S. court system to put the business concerns of mining operators ahead of her right to practice her religion.
"Would it be acceptable for gold mines to overlap the grounds of the National Cathedral, or the Mormon Church? They put a massive cyanide pit heap leech, right in the middle of our place of worship."
Lawyers for the tribe say the Shoshone wellspring is expected to go dry as a result of the mining operation. The Barrick Gold Corporation operates the mine, and argues that it has all the proper state and federal permits to continue.
Nevada is not alone when it comes to clashes between mining rights and tribal worship rights, according to Velma Smith, manager of the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining.
"It arose in California in the case of the Glamis Mine; there are claims being staked in important areas to Native Americans, in Wyoming and other areas. I think it's an issue that should be dealt with in mining reform legislation."
Native Americans tried to stop the Nevada mine from opening on Mount Tenabo in January, but a federal court in Reno allowed it to go forward. That decision is now being appealed in the Ninth Circuit Court.