ELKO - Tribal leaders and environmentalists are challenging federal approval of an exploration project for a gold mine in Northern Nevada, citing the cultural significance of the land.
The Western Shoshone Defense Project, Great Basin Mine Watch and the Te-Moak Tribe have filed the petition recently questioning the Bureau of Land Management's approval of Cortez Gold Mines' plans to expand its exploration efforts on land surrounding the Cortez Hills gold discovery in the Horse Canyon area.
"I feel comfortable with our decision," said Gail Givens, BLM assistant field manager for nonrenewable resources.
"It will be up to the state director to decide whether to review it," Givens told the Elko Daily Free Press last week.
The critics say the Horse Canyon area is important for cultural and religious reasons.
"We are outraged," said Te-Moak Tribal Council member Jody Abe. "Once again, the tribes have been left out of the decision making process that affects our people and our environment.
"The issue of our title as recognized by the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley is still intact and federal court action and other actions are ongoing. The Department of Interior and the mining companies know this and must begin taking these issues seriously," she said.
The petition says BLM approved the expanded exploration plans despite Western Shoshone protests and recognition that the area is of cultural and religious significance.
Cortez Gold Mines is a joint venture of Placer Dome Inc. and Kennecott Minerals. Placer Dome is 60 percent owner and operator, with Kennecott owning the remaining 40 percent.
"We're disappointed by the petition, but we're not surprised," said Louis Schack, manager of public affairs and community relations for Placer Dome America. "We're reviewing the document."
The announcement from the Western Shoshone Defense Project also says the area in question is the same area where Western Shoshone sisters Carrie and Mary Dann were grazing horses until BLM seized them last year.
Carrie Dann said in the announcement she couldn't understand BLM's approval of the exploration project in light of the many years Western Shoshone have tried to educate people and "stop destruction of our people and those things sacred to us.
"And yet, it is this federal administration who claims 'moral values,' and these companies who claim to be socially responsible that have shown nothing but disrespect for the ways of the Shoshone people," Dann said