Saturday May 8, 2021 | 2 a.m
As a citizen of Nez Percé, or Nimíipuu, which means the People, I see gold mining as a symbol of broken promises.
In 1855, when my ancestors made a treaty with the United States, we ceded millions of acres in what eventually became Idaho, Oregon and Washington. In return, we have reserved for ourselves an exclusive homeland and the rights to fish, hunt, gather and graze throughout our vast indigenous territory.
Then, in 1860, gold was discovered and thousands of prospectors invaded our borders in violation of the treaty, damaging our sacred places and natural resources, and causing untold damage to our people.
The United States broke the terms of the treaty of 1855 and forced the Nez Perce to conclude a new treaty in 1863. Known to us as the “treaty of theft,” it reduced the size of our homeland 90% and allowed miners and other non-Indians to remain on land they had illegally occupied.
When several Nez Percé bands led by Chief Joseph demanded that the United States honor its promises made in the 1855 treaty and refused to move to the new reserve, the federal government resorted to force. military, causing the Nez Percé War of 1877.
A century and a half later, the promise of gold once again threatens our homeland and our way of life.
The Stibnite gold project is proposed by Perpetua Resources, formerly Midas Gold, a Canadian company that recently moved to Idaho. The mine site is located on the Nez Perce ceded territory in the headwaters of the South Fork Salmon River, a watershed that was once home to one of the largest chinook salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin. We have treaty rights reserved in this culturally significant region and have worked over the years to restore fish habitat for the benefit of all – an effort that has cost millions of dollars.
The Stibnite gold project is said to be one of the largest gold mines in the country. The company aims to extract 4 to 5 million ounces of gold from three surface mines during the estimated life of the project, which is 21 to 28 years.
Despite Perpetua’s claim that it will “restore the site” already heavily polluted by mining legacy, the proposal to expand the area and re-mine it will add hundreds of millions of tonnes of additional waste and tailings. . The proposal will also require the storage of new toxic waste, as well as active water treatment long after the company has finished operating the site.
The Perpetua mining operation would also restrict or prohibit treaty access for more than two decades, if not longer. It would also destroy critical habitat for endangered chinook salmon and bull trout, as well as other resources dear to the Nez Perce and all Idahoans.
The Nez Perce are skeptical that Perpetua Resources will stick around if the mine is federally licensed. Perpetua is now majority-owned by a New York-based company that recently replaced most of the mining company’s board members.
The company could choose to sell its shares for a huge profit and then exit the scene. A new company could then step in to mine for gold, leaving behind a new legacy of toxic contamination and resource destruction that would affect our communities for generations to come.
We know the exploit-and-abandon model all too well. Companies are breaking their promises, and federal mining laws offer little to no liability. We want this gold mining permit to be refused.
The United States, as a signatory to the Treaty of 1855 and a tribal trustee, has a responsibility to protect and honor our treaty rights and resources. These treaty obligations, predating the General Mining Act of 1872, are anchored in the supremacy clause of the Constitution and represent the solemn word of the United States.
For us, the Nimíipuu, the value of land, fish, wildlife and other natural resources will always be worth more than gold. Chief Joseph left us these words that we will never forget: “It hurts my heart to remember all the good words and the broken promises.
The United States must not turn a blind eye to the Stibnite Gold project. We call on this country to honor Nez Perce’s treaty rights and protect the lands and resources important to all people in Idaho.
Marcie Carter is a citizen of the Nez Perce tribe and a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to sparking a lively conversation about the West.