Prothero begins and ends his chapter on Navajo religion with discussions of Navajo religion and the law. The Moodle articles by Dallas (“How Religious Freedom Law Fails Native Americans”) and Kapoor, (“Lithium Mining . . .”) provide further examples and discussion. Please sum up: what is the nature of the conflict here? How do the examples from the readings illustrate the problem? What are the various ways laws and courts have tried to address the issues? How does this conflict drive us back to very basic questions of the definition and characteristics of religion?Cholla Canyon Ranch caretaker Ivan Bender
points out the boundaries of the Hualapai
Tribe’s property from one of the initial
exploratory drilling sites surrounding the
ranch. (Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country

Published on National Catholic Reporter (
Jul 12, 2021

Lithium mining in western U.S. comes at a cost to
Indigenous religions
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by Maya L. Kapoor by High Country News

Editor’s note: This story originally
appeared in High Country News [2] and is
republished here as part of Covering
Climate Now, a global journalism
collaboration strengthening coverage of
the climate story.

One autumn evening four years ago, Ivan
Bender, a Hualapai man in his mid-50s,
took a walk with his fluffy brown-and-
white Pomeranian, Sierra Mae, to check
on the ranchland he tends. Nestled in
western Arizona’s Big Sandy River Valley,
the ranch protects Ha’ Kamwe’ — hot
springs that are sacred to the Hualapai
and known today in English as Cofer Hot
Springs. As the shadows lengthened,
Bender saw something surprising — men
working on a nearby hillside.

“I asked them what they were doing,” Bender recalled. “They told me they were drilling.” As
it turns out, along with sacred places including the hot springs, ceremony sites and
ancestral burials, the valley also holds an enormous lithium deposit. Now, exploratory work
by Australian company Hawkstone Mining threatens those places, and with them, the
religious practices of the Hualapai and other Indigenous nations. But this threat is nothing
new: Centuries of land expropriation, combined with federal court rulings denying
protection to sacred sites, have long devastated Indigenous religious freedom.

Cholla Canyon Ranch, where Bender is the
caretaker, includes approximately 360
acres about halfway between Phoenix and
Las Vegas, flanked to the west by the lush
riparian corridor of Big Sandy River. The
valley is part of an ancient salt route
connecting tribes from as far north as
central Utah to communities in Baja
California and along the Pacific Coast,
documented in the songs and oral
traditions of many Indigenous nations.

“There are stories about that land and
what it represents to the Hualapai Tribe,”
Bender said. “To me, it holds a really,
really sacred valley of life in general.”
According to tribal councilmember
Richard Powskey, who directs the
Hualapai Natural Resources Department,

the Hualapai harvest native plant materials along the river corridor for everything from
cradle boards to drums.

The mining company (USA Lithium Ltd., which has since been acquired by Hawkstone
Mining Ltd.) hadn’t told the Hualapai Tribe it was searching for lithium on nearby Bureau
of Land Management lands. That evening, Bender was shocked to see the destruction How religious freedom law fails
Native Americans
In two ongoing lawsuits, tribes are fighting for access to sacred sites

By Kelsey Dallas on June 29, 2021 8:23 pm

This June 15, 2015, file photo shows an encampment belonging to protesters in the Oak Flat

area of Superior, Ariz. The mountainous land is also known as Chi’chil Bildagoteel. It’s

where Apaches have harvested medicinal plants, held coming-of-age ceremonies and

gathered acorns for generations. Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

This article was first published in the State of Faith newsletter. Sign up to
receive the newsletter in your inbox each Monday night.

One of the most sacred sites in North America may soon become a

copper mine. If it does, the dynamite used to extract the ore will

eventually destroy the land, turning a holy place into a crater as wide as

the National Mall is long.

The religious freedom protections that could save Oak Flat, which is

sacred to the Western Apache people, have failed Native Americans

many times before.

Judges, politicians and other leaders have refused repeatedly to

accommodate tribes seeking the ability to worship in peace, said Luke

Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for

Religious Liberty.

“There’s often just a remarkably callous disregard of Native Americans

and Native American religious practices. There’s a lack of

understanding, as well,” he said.

Oak Flat: A holy land worth fighting for

Along with his Native American clients, Goodrich is working to build

understanding and ensure that America upholds its promise of religious

freedom for all. They’re asking the court to block the mining project

and ensure nothing like this crisis can happen again.

The Oak Flat case and another ongoing lawsuit called Slockish

challenge us to consider why tribes’ pleas for religious freedom

protections so often fall on deaf ears. I spoke with Goodrich last week

about this problem and whether he’s hopeful about the future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Deseret News: What makes cases involving Native Americans stand out

from other religious freedom cases?[gw_fbsaeid]&urlfix=1&adurl=

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