Mining pollution threats recently earned Rapid Creek, or Mniluzahan in the Lakota language (Mni=water, luzahan=fast), a designation as one of America’s Most Threatened Rivers of 2020. Photo by Talli Nauman / Native Sun News Today

Native Sun News Today: Lawsuit challenges gold permit process in ‘sacred water’ basin

Gold exploration could devastate Rapid City water supply

RAPID CITY – As tribal governments awaited federal consultation over proposed increases in large-scale gold prospecting on Rapid Creek upstream from here, the grassroots Black Hills Clean Water Alliance filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for illegally withholding public information during the permitting process.

Rapid Creek, originally called Mniluzahan, is a main source of drinking water, irrigation, recreation, and spiritual renewal for residents of Rapid City and surrounding communities, and was named one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers ago on April 14, due to the threat of mining megaprojects posed by the prospecting permits.

“Mining could devastate Rapid Creek’s clean water, fish and wildlife and sacred cultural sites,” Chris Williams, senior vice president for conservation at the national non-profit American Rivers said in announcing the designation.

Adding that the designation is a “call to action,” he warned, “The Forest Service must seriously consider these risks and listen to the tribal nations who have cared for the Black Hills since time immemorial.”

The Clean Water Alliance submitted a formal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Forest Service in December of 2018 on four Black Hills National Forest prospecting permits under consideration in the Rapid Creek Basin.

On this May 15, when the Forest Service had yet to release the information, the organization filed the lawsuit here in the Western Division of South Dakota U.S. District Court. The filing quotes FOIA and Forest service regulations requiring specific responses to such requests within 20 days.

“The agency records have been withheld without justification and access denied through a variety of delaying tactics that prevent oversight and scrutiny,” the suit alleges, stipulating that the information was unavailable during 2019 public comment periods.

Congress enacted the FOIA “to ensure that the government remains open and accessible to the American people and is always based not upon the 'need to know' but upon the fundamental 'right to know’,” the complaint noted.

Lilias Jarding, founder of the Rapid-City based Clean Water Alliance, said the agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture “are hiding information from the public,” and noted, “They are considering allowing gold exploration just upstream of Pactola Reservoir, which is Rapid City’s water supply. We have the legal right to know what’s going on.”

Permitting and initial project activities involving the watershed in the Forest Service Mystic Ranger District are taking place at the Jenny Gulch Project near Silver City proposed by F3 Gold and the Rochford Project adjacent to the tribal trust land of Pe’ Sla proposed by Mineral Mountain Resources, Ltd. of Canada.

“Mining for gold poses a serious threat to our sacred water from Rapid Creek,” said A. Gay Kingman, executive director of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association. “Our drinking water, our environment, our land and the health of hundreds of people are at stake.”

Rapdi Creek, also known as Mniluzahan in the Lakota language, a main source of drinking water, irrigation, recreation, and spiritual renewal for residents of Rapid City and surrounding communities in South Dakota. Mniluzahan means fast water. Photo by Bruce Ellison / Courtesy American Rivers

Speaking at the American Rivers announcement, she said, “Instead of polluting Rapid Creek, which connects to the Cheyenne River and the Missouri River, the longest river in America, we should be cleaning up our waters. We simply cannot allow greed and the quest for gold to endanger our water and our lives.”

American Rivers added, “Large-scale gold mining must be stopped from moving south into the Rapid Creek watershed, where it would threaten the Oceti Sakowin (The Great Sioux Nation) homelands, treaty territory and present-day reservation lands and rural and ranching communities.”

F3 Gold has nearly 2,500 mining claims and wants to explore above the inlet to Pactola Reservoir; its claims extend into the lake.

Did some math today. The Rapid Creek watershed, which supplies Rapid City and Ellsworth Air Force Base with water, ...

Posted by Black Hills Clean Water Alliance on Monday, June 8, 2020

Mineral Mountain Resources has mining claims on over 7,500 acres and is drilling on private land near Pe’ Sla, a major cultural site of the Lakota people. The site is so important that the Lakota and Dakota tribes purchased a portion of Pe’ Sla in order to protect it, without regard to the fact that it was already their land under the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty.

“Water is our first medicine and we need to recognize freshwater, such as Rapid Creek, as the living entity that she is,” said Lakota grandmother Carla Rae Marshall. Also speaking at the American Rivers announcement, she advocated, “We must protect her as if our life and the lives of future generations of all species depend on it - because it does.”


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