2017-11-30 / Voices

The Black Hills Are Under Siege…Again


On that cold December morning in 2001 when I traveled 8000 feet down into the Black Hills in an open steel elevator to witness the last blast of the Homestake Gold Mine…I presumed it was the end of an era.

Not just for the largest gold mine in America, but for gold mining in the Black Hills.

I heard the collective “sigh” of the Lakota, acknowledging that this massive intrusion into their most sacred place and the most flagrant disregard for their treaties with the U.S. federal government – the supposed “supreme law of the land” – had finally come to an end.

I witnessed the dismay of those who would lose their jobs as a result of this change with the times, brought on by the need to use 1,600 kilograms of ammonium nitrate to yield just 5 ½ grams of gold. But hadn’t the Lakota lost their land, their spiritual sanctuary and their very way of life?

I saw the concern expressed for placing those unemployed in positions with the planned scientific laboratory that would now operate within the bowels of Mother Earth where gold diggers once trod. I saw no concern for how this continued presence in contested treaty land, sacred land, was viewed by traditional Lakota and their elders.

But, at least…it was over. Or, so we thought.

“We” being those non- Natives who live in or near the Black Hills and have respect for the land and the environment even if our cultures don’t place our origin story here, along with those who do.

Well, it was nice while it lasted.

As has already been reported, a Canadian mining company called Mineral Mountain Resources is in the process of soliciting approval to explore for gold in the Black Hills.

Yes, dejavu all over again.

But if last week’s meeting between the U.S. Forest Service and tribal leaders is any indication, that approval won’t be coming without a fight. And a substantial one.

As one tribal chairman put it “if you think the Dakota Access Pipeline protest was big…just try mining for gold in the Black Hills”.

Yet, as I stood at the back of the conference room crowded with Natives and non- Natives who’d come to offer comments or bear witness to the tribes’ unanimous objection to mining exploration of any kind in the Black Hills, my eyes kept straying to the 5 U.S. Forest representatives who sat motionless for the majority of the proceedings.

Whether it was a Lakota mother near tears calling for protection of the sacred Hills for her children and grandchildren, or an energetic Lakota man bluntly asking the board members who among them was racist, their blank stares never wavered.

It reminded, once again, of the images that aired on evening news shows more than 30 years ago showing pasty-faced bureaucrats in suits sitting in front of members of Niagara Fall’s Love Canal neighborhood – deaf to complaints over the effects toxic waste was having on them and their families.

And if it wasn’t bad enough to hear that yet another foreign company was on American soil to make money and contaminate the environment at our expense and that of future generations, or that this was the first “consultation” between the U.S. Forest Service and tribes regarding the issue (though the federal agency apparently considered letters sent to the tribes in August on the subject sufficient “consultation”), it was now revealed that two more companies have applied for permission to desecrate the Hills or nearby treaty lands.

It seems that Core Mining Company – “Mining is not just our specialty…it’s our passion…Let’s keep in touch!”, of ?...Saudi Arabia would like to explore for gold on the South Dakota / Wyoming border in a similar operation as Mineral Mountain Resources would be conducting in the central Black Hills.

Meanwhile, Rare Elements Resources, of Littleton, Colorado, (per its web page) is now interested in resuming pursuit of its “Bear Lodge Project” – “The Company owns a 100% interest in a group of 499 unpatented mining claims and 640 acres owned in patent. The mine site is located approximately 12 miles northwest of the town of Sundance, Wyoming. The Company also has an option on a parcel of land located on the outskirts of the town of Upton, Wyoming approximately 40 miles to the southwest. This is the planned site for the Project’s hydrometallurgical processing plant.” – or nearby Bear Lodge.

Did I say the Black Hills are under siege again? Better make that Lakota sacred sites – and expand the defense.

Jim Kent is a freelance writer and radio producer who lives in Hot Springs. He is a contributing columnist to the Lakota Country Times and former editor of The New Lakota Times. He can be heard on National Public Radio and National Native News Radio. Jim can be reached at

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