Last month, the Quechan people celebrated a victory. They have stopped a gold mining company from drilling on sacred land in the California desert. In the Southeast corner of present-day California, near the Colorado river and Arizona border, ancient trails at a site known as Indian Pass connect the Quechan to their place of creation.
To celebrate this victory, the Quechan Tribal Council and a coalition of community organizations organized a spirit run from Indian Pass to the Fort Yuma Reservation on April 16, 2022. I traveled to the Quechan Nation to show my support, greeting the runners as they completed their route while singing traditional songs and bearing eagle staffs. It was a glorious day to celebrate a victory.
This is not the first time the Quechan have declared victory at Indian Pass. Two decades ago, after an intense campaign by tribal leaders and environmentalists, the Department of Interior (DOI) denied a mining permit here. DOI decided then that the mine would cause undue degradation to lands held sacred to the Quechan. Indian Pass has since been withdrawn from new mining and designated an area of critical environmental concern. Unfortunately, rising gold prices have led California to the brink of another gold rush and a new company, KORE Mining, attempted to mine Indian Pass once again. After pressure from the Quechan community and environmental allies, KORE removed Indian Pass from its mining plans.
Elder and culture bearer Preston Arrow-weed helped lead the fight to protect Indian Pass the first time. Once again, he’s worried about what toxic devastation digging up gold, known as “snake’s blood,” might bring.
As we sat on his porch after the spirit run, he shared his worries about contamination of the groundwater from the cyanide heap leach process, and desecration of ancient grave sites. Preston has been encouraging the younger generation to learn Quechan songs and language, and to join the fight to protect Indian Pass.
Groups like the Xanapuks have taken on the mantle, connecting with their sacred places by joining the spirit run, raising awareness on their podcast, and providing hope for the future.
Unsurprisingly, KORE mining has been trying to deflate this victory by continuing exploration plans at nearby sites. They have also been telling the media that they will submit a new mining proposal for Indian Pass, believing that they still have valid claims.
“This is not their land anyway. They talk about their mining claims. Of course their mining claim is more recent compared to ours. Thousands of years ago we put claims out there, sacred sites, things that were left behind to show that our people lived there.”-Preston Arrow-weed, Quechan elder
KORE mining would do well to remember that theirs is a claim staked on stolen land. We must reform our outdated mining law to stop mining proposals from coming back again and again in places where they don’t belong.
Take action to support 1872 mining law reform and help protect sacred places like Indian Pass from mining.