On 20 November 2008, several US Western Shoshone tribes and non-profit organizations filed a lawsuit in Nevada federal court against the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) seeking a preliminary injunction to stop Barrick Gold from proceeding with the largest open-pit cyanide heap leach gold mine in the US – the Cortez Hills Expansion Project. The Project is located on Mt. Tenabo, Nevada, a mountain with deep cultural and religious significance for the Western Shoshone. The plaintiffs asked the court to revoke the mining permit issued to Barrick Gold by BLM on 12 November 2008. The initial claim was filed exclusively against BLM, but Barrick Gold voluntarily joined the litigation as defendant-intervener.
The plaintiffs argue that the Project will cause permanent and irreparable harm to the environment, Mt. Tenabo and the Western Shoshone. They allege that the Project will substantially harm their right to engage in prayer and religious activities in the area. With regard to environmental damage, plaintiffs claim that the Project will dump toxic mine waste onto their land, and they further claim that the amount of groundwater needed by the mine will cause a loss of surface waters and springs in the area.
The district judge rejected plaintiffs’ application for a preliminary injunction on 26 January 2009. The judge acknowledged that the Project will desecrate the mountain and decrease the tribal members’ spiritual fulfillment from their religion. However, the judge found that the significant financial costs of the injunction outweighed these religious factors. Following this ruling, Barrick began project construction.
On 6 February 2009 the plaintiffs filed an appeal with the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Plaintiffs requested the appeals court to issue a preliminary injunction staying further ground disturbance and construction of the Project. Furthermore, the plaintiffs explained that they did not seek to disturb those parts of the Project that would not affect Mt. Tenabo, allowing Barrick to continue with the planned expansion approximately 8 miles away from the mountain. On 3 December 2009 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a preliminary injunction to halt the expansion of the Cortez Gold Mine. The judge granted the injunction on the basis that the plaintiffs had shown a likelihood of success on their claims regarding environmental violations under the National Environmental Policy Act. In January 2010, Barrick filed a motion with the court proposing an amended injunction in order to allow Barrick to continue with limited operation of the Project. In February 2010, the plaintiffs filed a motion with the district court requesting that it issue a full injunction to halt the Project. In June 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision affirming the lower court's dismissal of the case on two claims, and remanding the case to the lower court for further proceedings on the third claim regarding alleged violations under the National Environmental Policy Act. In October 2011 lawyers for Barrick Gold and lawyers for the Bureau of Land Management asked the judge presiding of the case to lift the partial injunction. The court agreed to lift the injunction in January 2012 finding that Barrick Gold had corrected the deficiencies in its enviornmental assessment. The lawyers for tribes are considering an appeal.
- "NV tribes, enviros lose suit against big gold mine", AP, 6 Jan 2012
- "Tribe battles BLM over Nev. gold mine in US court", Scott Sonner, Associated Press, 6 Oct 2011
- "Tribe Loses Court Battle to Stop Gold Mine on Mount Tenabo", Environmental News Service, 22 Jun 2010
- "Groups file motion for mine shutdown", Adella Harding, Elko Daily Free Press, 6 Feb 2010
- "Barrick proposes Cortez curbs", Brenda Bouw, Globe and Mail [Canada], 27 Jan 2010
- "Nevada Tribes Win Halt to Barrick Gold Mine Expansion", Lisa J. Wolf, Environmental News Service, 3 Dec 2009
- "Native Americans Ask Court to Stop Gold Mine on Sacred Mountain", Environmental News Service, 6 Jun 2009
- "Nevada federal judge refuses to grant injunction to halt Cortez Hills gold project", Mineweb, 27 Jan 2009
- "Shoshone Indians Sue to Stop Barrick's Nevada Gold Mine", Lisa J. Wolf, Environmental News Service, 25 Nov 2008
- Barrick Gold: Indigenous Community Relations and the Western Shoshone
- Western Shoshone Defense Project: Legal Struggles [contains certain legal documents]
- Great Basin Resource Watch: Save spiritual site Mt. Tenabo
South Fork Band, et al. v. US Dept. of Interior, et al.:
- [PDF] Opinion of US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 18 Jun 2010
- [PDF] Opinion [granting preliminary injunction], 3 Dec 2009
- [PDF] Reply Brief of South Fork Band Council & other appellants, 17 Apr 2009
- [PDF] Opening Brief of South Fork Band Council & other appellants, 6 Mar 2009
- [PDF] Order [denying plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction], 3 Feb 2009
- [audio] Oral Arguments before Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals WMA Format, MP3 Format