By Kathy Bancroft
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, and Members of the Subcommittee,
Thank you for the opportunity to testify about reforms to the Federal Government’s mining laws and rules. My name is Katherine Bancroft, I am the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, THPO, for the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribe.
Lone Pine, the town where I was born and raised, sits in the place we call Payahuunadü, meaning “the place where the water always flows.” Along the eastern edge of California, where elevations reach 15,000 feet in the Sierra to below sea level on the other side, in Death Valley National Park, I see the same amazing views that my ancestors looked at for millennia.
Our homeland since time immemorial is now under threat of irrevocable destruction. A Canadian company, K2 Gold, is conducting exploratory drilling in hopes of advancing gold mining on Conglomerate Mesa, a pristine area traditionally stewarded by my people.
The Mesa sits in the middle of 22,000 acres of a Wilderness Inventory Unit filled with natural beauty and wildlife. It hosts a vibrant and productive ecosystem of rare and unique desert plants, as well as culturally sensitive and archeologically significant artifacts. We have relied on these lands for traditional cultural uses, including subsistence hunting, gathering edible and medicinal plants and engaging in traditional ceremony.
K2 Gold is not the first and it won’t be the last. Mine claim staking throughout our traditional lands, including Conglomerate Mesa, has privatized an entire region we hold sacred. This new company has ignored our concerns and suggestions to avoid causing irreparable harm
The General Mining Law of 1872 is a relic from the US government’s western expansion, which resulted in the seizure and destruction of Indigenous peoples’ land and resources across this country. The federal government has the power to insist on more meaningful tribal consultation that seeks to achieve free, prior, and informed consent. New rules can clarify the federal government’s ability to deny mines that would cause unnecessary or undue degradation to our resources.
For decades the mining lobby has blocked much-needed 1872 Mining Law reform that would fairly treat impacted communities. From Oak Flat to Thacker Pass, the cycle of oppression continues. The voices of Indigenous communities are pushed to the side in the name of “progress” that creates disproportionate impacts and distributes inequitable benefits.
A just, equitable, and fair 21st century renewable energy transition demands meaningful reform of these laws and rules. Minerals must be sourced more responsibly by strengthening oversight, ensuring alternatives are adequately considered, and requiring meaningful tribal consultation. The transition must not touch off a mining rush like that which historically killed or displaced Indigenous and other marginalized peoples, destroyed sacred cultural resources, scarred landscapes, and polluted water.
On July 11, my community commemorated the strength and resiliency of our people by tracing a portion of the route that our ancestors were forced to march, not long before this mining law was made, by a military who had deceived them with false promises of food and shelter. Once inside the walls of Fort Independence, they were imprisoned in caves until almost 1,000 of them were forced to walk about 250 miles to Fort Tejon. Many were killed, escaped, or died along the way. My great-grandmother, then a child, managed to escape Fort Tejon and returned by herself, to our ancestral home. Her life is a testimony on how much this place means to us.
I dream for the next generation to feel genuinely seen by the US government in a way that my ancestors and I, have never been. They must know that our history is acknowledged, and that our values are reflected in the decisions that affect our land. While I am honored to hold the title of THPO from the DOI and NPS, no title or job description can ever equal the innate responsibility I have always felt to care for our lands. The land provides for us, heals us, nurtures us and defines us as Indigenous People. Our culture, our homeland and our lives are inextricably interwoven.
Thank you again for allowing me to share my testimony. I look forward to answering your questions.
Kathy Bancroft is an Elder of the Lone Pine Paiute Tribe and serves as both the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO) and the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Representative, among many other duties. Kathy also supports Walking Water as an Advisor.