Foreign Companies Eye Sacred Mountains in Montana and India for New Mines

They're on opposite sides of the world, but two mountains that are sacred to the tribal communities that live near them are up against a similar threat: giant mines that would bore into the mountains and damage surrounding environments.


Canadian firm Revett Minerals plans to open up a $300 million silver and copper mining project under Chicago Peak, which has been traditionally used by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes for praying and fasting.

So the tribes are trying to get the peak listed on the National Register of Historic Places, because lying within the federally designated Cabinet Mountains Wilderness—which is protected from vehicles as well as logging and mining—isn't enough since the minerals were identified, the New York Times explains, before the 1964 Wilderness Act. And so Revett Minerals got approval for the project.

More from The Times:

The company plans to build the entrance to the mine outside the wilderness boundary and tunnel under the protected lands to reach the copper and silver beneath the base of the peak. The mine is expected to produce six million ounces of silver and 52 million pounds of copper a year.

That’s far greater than the yield of the nearby Troy Mine, also run by Revett Minerals, which produces an average of 1.4 million ounces of silver and 1.5 million pounds of copper annually.

The mine would also include a tailings pond, mill and wastewater treatment facilities.

“Chicago Peak is a very sacred site with many stories,” Kootenai Tribe cultural preservation officer Francis Auld told the Missoulian. “It is a place of sustenance and it is one of the last untouched places where the Kootenai can visit and reconnect with our cultural history. We don’t want to end up with a hollowed-out mountain.”

The project's estimated life span is 35 years, according to Revett's CEO. It's less clear if he's estimated how long the subsequent environmental problems would last or if he has a plan for cleanup of the contamination that occurs at so many other mines.


In India, a struggle that Mat has written about before continues: British firm Vedanta Resources wants to mine bauxite under the remote Dongria Kondh people's "mountain of law," which they worship as the seat of their god according to Survival International, which adds that members of the tribe call themselves Jharnia—"protector of streams."

More about the project from Survival International:

To the Dongria, Niyam Dongar hill is the seat of their god, Niyam Raja. To Vedanta it is a $2billion deposit of bauxite.

Vedanta’s open pit mine would destroy the forests, disrupt the rivers and spell the end of the Dongria Kondh as a distinct people.

But in this case, it's not a matter of the government siding with the company or upholding outdated laws. Again from Survival International:

The Indian government has refused to grant final clearance for Vedanta’s mine, choosing to place the Dongria Kondh’s rights above the company’s balance sheet.

But Vedanta has refused to respect the wishes of the Dongria and the government. The battle for Niyamgiri is now back in the Supreme Court of India.

The fate of the Dongria Kondh and their sacred mountain once again hangs in the balance.

Check out this video to learn more:

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