PIERRE, SD – At a hearing on Jan. 18, Oglala Lakota tribal members and others took issue with state officials for approving a permit transfer that moves Canadian prospectors one step closer to their goal of large-scale Black Hills gold mining.
After taking public comments at the hearing in the state capital, the members of the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment granted an exploration permit transfer from Mineral Mountain Resources Ltd., of Vancouver, British Columbia, to the company’s wholly-owned South Dakota subsidiary, Mineral Mountain Resources (SD) Inc., releasing the foreign parent company from liability in the operation.
The panel of nine members, appointed by the state governor, voted unanimously in favor of the transfer, effective with the subsidiary’s posting of a $20,000 reclamation bond.
The permit gives a green light for planned diamond drilling exploration of 120 holes up to 5,000 feet deep at 12 sites on some 7,500 acres of private land and an unspecified number of additional holes at 21 more sites on public land.
The activity is set to launch at the so-called Rochford Gold Project, located in the vicinity of the historic Standby Mine claim and the Lakota spiritual center of Pe’ Sla, all in Pennington County in the central Black Hills.
Operations were “anticipated to begin upon approval” of the permit transfer, according to a notice posted by South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Steven M. Pirner.
Mineral Mountain Resources Ltd. also obtained a temporary state water rights permit renewal for its drill rigs on Jan. 2, enabling it to withdraw 1.8 million gallons from Rapid Creek, at a maximum pump rate of 200 gallons per minute, through the end of April.
Prospectors anticipate Rapid and Castle Creek water usage of 5,000 to 10,000 gallons daily and up to 20,000 gallons “on occasion” for what the company dubs “North America’s Largest Gold Discovery” and promises could produce the equivalent in paydirt of the record-setting, now defunct nearby Homestake Gold Mine.
At the hearing, Tonia Stands, who identified herself as an Oglala woman of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota nations, reminded the board that the Homestake claim of 1876 was part of a gold rush that the federal government later recognized as an illegal invasion of the Black Hills in violation of the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty, which guaranteed the Sioux tribes the “absolute and undisturbed use and occupation” of the territory.
“When you go into the Black Hills and you’re digging for gold, it strikes a whole traumatic history of gold stolen out of the Black Hills, and the whole area is sacred,” she told the board.
Doree Jensen, who identified herself as an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, noted that the $450,000 federal Indian Claims Commission compensation to the Sioux for gold stolen by trespassing miners prior to 1877 took into consideration only assays of placer-mined (streambed) gold finds, not underground production like Homestake’s.
“It is morally wrong to keep allowing Sioux gold to be stolen from the Black Hills in violation of Sioux treaties,” she said in a letter submitted at the hearing.
A representative of the Oglala Sioux tribal government’s Natural Resource Regulatory Agency also submitted a letter but did not respond to a request for a copy.
Jensen bemoaned the fact that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Lonewolf v. Hitchcock established a case-law precedent allowing Congress to break an Indian treaty by passing subsequent legislation, like the 1877 Act, which abrogated the Ft. Laramie Treaty.
Throughout the ensuing years, the Sioux regarded the act as a breach of that treaty, according to the 1980 Supreme Court conclusion in the United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians case, which established the tribes are entitled to compensation with interest for the occupation of the Black Hills.
Both Stands and Jensen told the hearing board that the prospectors do not have the tribes’ required “consent” to conduct operations. The Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation have never accepted compensation, insisting instead on a land return.
“Believe me, I may be one right now, but when everybody else knows, they’re coming, and we’re going to make a stand and protect our Black Hills,” Stands said. “It is our Mecca. We can’t just pop up a church anywhere and go in there. This is the place for us, and it’s always been like that, and it will always continue to be like that.”
Jensen broached the specter of water depletion and pollution. “Where will Rapid City get their drinking water if Rapid Creek is polluted with gold mining by Mineral Mountain Resources, like Whitewood Creek and Strawberry Creek were polluted in the past?” she asked.
Homestake Mine, 15 miles north of the Rochford Gold Project, polluted Whitewood Creek, and Brohm Mining Co.’s nearby Gilt Edge Mine polluted Strawberry Creek, with both large-scale gold mines leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for multi-million dollar Superfund toxic cleanup sites.
Jensen, noting that she is “100-percent opposed” to the operation, said, “The Sioux people have imposed a duty on themselves to look after the next seven generations.
“Fortunately, some of our non-Indian friends in the Black Hills see merit to this view, even if foolish proponents of gold mining don’t care about future generations and would rather allow these Canadian companies to come in, pollute our environment and drinking water resources, then leave with their profits while we are ultimately left to clean up their mess at great financial expense to taxpayers,” she added.
The U.S. Forest Service must abide by laws that require federal consultation with tribal officials on a government-to-government basis when mining takes place on public lands, she reminded the board members.
The Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, consisting of 16 elected government heads and chartered for federal consultations, has demanded the Forest Service consult with tribes on the exploration.
The Mystic Ranger District of the Black Hills National Forest is in charge of approving locations on an unspecified number of test holes at 21 sites where Mineral Mountain Resources wants to drill on public land, in addition to the state’s exploration permitting for them.
The drill holes in the national forest are slated for a total of two acres in an approximately 10-square-mile area near scenic Castle Peak and recreational facilities, including the Michelson Trail.
However, due to the General Mining Law of 1872, the Forest Service does not have to require a Plan of Operations for exploration, and it cannot deny a Plan of Operations for mining.
Belle Fourche attorney Max Main, resident agent for Mineral Mountain Resources Ltd., told the board the Forest Service has not required a Plan of Operations for exploration, so “there is no obligation to consult” with tribes.
Nonetheless, the prospectors have submitted a Plan of Operations. The plan calls for reopening off-limits roads and building approximately 3,000 feet of new trails for drill rigs, pickups, all-terrain vehicles, excavators and loaders to access all the sites under Forest Service administration.
The sites would be about 1,000 square feet each and would be drilled continuously for 24 hours a day during a three-month period, according to the plan.
Rapid City resident Lilias Jarding, a PhD in environmental policy, argued that the board should reconsider the permit transfer application because of Mineral Mountain Resources Ltd.’s potentially illegal operations in South Dakota.
Jarding is among members of several non-profit organizations challenging the prospecting, including Clean Water Alliance, the Black Hills Chapter of the statewide Dakota Rural Action, Prairie Hills Audubon Society, and Save Rochford and Rapid Creek.
Mineral Mountain Resources Ltd. has been doing business in the state for years without registering with the Secretary of State, according to official documents reviewed by the Native Sun News Today.
However, the board stipulated, members are required to approve the transfer application unless the local Mineral Mountain Resources (SD), Inc. “is not in compliance or cannot be brought into compliance” with the law.
Before approving the transfer, the board ordered the parent company to publicly disclose its violation of environmental laws.
The company’s consulting engineer in Rapid City certified that the prospectors paid a fine to the state for breaking the law on March 22, 2013, by dumping bentonite-laced water into Battle Creek. The amount of the fine was not specified.
The discharge occurred while the company was prospecting for Black Hills gold at the historic Holy Terror Mine claim near Keystone, south of Rapid City.
The state’s conditions for exploration at the Rochford Gold Project are the same as those for the Holy Terror Project:
“When drilling fluids are used and/or when ground water is encountered during drilling, the drilling fluids shall be sufficiently contained to prevent overland flow or discharge to any waters of the state.”
The restrictions also say that the state requires the company to notify it within 90 days if drilling penetrates an aquifer.
(Contact Talli Nauman firstname.lastname@example.org)