The New Gold Rush
Today the land and the waters that are sacred to Native communities continue to be threatened. In the 1960s Newmont Gold of Colorado developed cyanide leach technology, in partnership with the United States Bureau of Mines, in the Nevada deserts a few hours from the California border. This technology allows the industry to extract gold flakes that are too small to be spotted by the naked eye and has triggered a new Gold Rush that has spread across the planet to crush entire mountains in the effort to squeeze the last drop of gold out of the land.
Today an estimated three million tons of waste is dumped for every ton of gold produced in this country using cyanide. As a result, by the end of this decade, the gold industry will leave three dozen huge open pits in Nevada alone. Each pit may be as much as three miles long, one mile wide and half a mile deep, and contain lakes that pose acid pollution problems.
About half of United States gold today comes from the land of the Western Shoshone peoples, which stretches from Death Valley, California, in the south through Nevada to the Idaho border.
None of this land belongs to the United States, let alone the mining companies. The Western Shoshone Nation signed the Treaty of Ruby Valley in 1863 with representatives of the federal government. The treaty specifically defined the boundaries of the Western Shoshone Nation and did not cede any of the land. In 1979 the government attempted to award 26 million dollars in compensation to the Western Shoshone for over 24 million acres of Western Shoshone land in 1979, but the Western Shoshone rejected the money and explained that the land was never for sale.
"I sit up in my bedroom in the morning and the first thing I see through the trees is drill rigs. It's not a pretty sight. I look at them as death to my people. Death to my beliefs. The Earth is sacred. The water is sacred. The air is sacred. Gold mining is destroying these things," says Dann.
Further south on the land of the Timbisha peoples of the Western Shoshone, two mines are threatening the Native peoples. The Briggs mine of Canyon Resources of Colorado opened in August 1996 on a 17,000-acre claim. Roger Flynn, a lawyer with the Western Mining Action Project, who has appealed to the Department of the Interior over the project on behalf of the Timbisha, says that the government has violated its promises to respect the Native peoples: "They said tribes were equal partners, and yet now have relegated tribes to nothing more than the general public."
The project is also is expected to impact bighorn sheep in Redlands Canyon, and the Townsend's Big-eared Bat. Nearby Compass Minerals has begun work on the World Beater mine in Pleasant Canyon which will affect the Panamint Mountain Lupine and the Panamint Alligator Lizard in addition to the bats and sheep.
Several other new cyanide leach projects are right on the California border. Near Reno, Alta Gold is proposing to open the Olinghouse Mine Project the Pah Rah Range, which could pollute the Truckee River and the land of the Paiute peoples. Further south on the Arizona border Glammis Gold wants to dig a 700 feet deep pit at Indian Pass Wilderness near the Chocolate Mountains, on the traditional lands of the Quechan peoples.
And the threat from small-scale river mining, similar to those of the Gold Rush days, has not gone away. Just beyond the northern border of California, there are some 6,000 active mining claims in the Siskiyou national forest area in Oregon. "There are maybe some 150 mining dredges in our rivers. They operate mostly in the low gradient areas which also happen to be the best spawning grounds. Unfortunately our mining regulations are weaker than those in California," says Barbara Ullian of the Siskiyou Audoban Society. Despite the stronger standards some 300 mining claims have been filed in the Klamath national forest area south of the border in California.
Today as the state of California celebrates the pioneer history of the Gold Rush, it fails to recognize the toxic legacy that is slowly trickling through our lived in northern California. even though the 49ers may be gone, their mistakes and greed will haunt the future. And that greed continues today through the new Gold Rush that is destroying Native lands for a prize that still has the deadly gleam of a poisonous fever.