ELKO — A Shoshone Tribe expressed grievances with Nevada Gold Mines, saying the mining company has not done enough to benefit indigenous people or compensate them for affecting ancestral lands.
The complaints came in late 2020 after NGM requested signatures on a draft collaborative agreement containing amendments to a contract between the tribes and the mining company that outlines the parties’ expectations and obligations.
Tribal leaders allege that NGM has not upheld aspects of the existing collaborative agreement, and some refuse to sign, according to a Nov. 9 letter to NGM from the Shoshone Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation.
They, along with some bands of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone and the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, are among the tribes with disagreements with the proposed document, according to the letter.
The Elko Band, which is part of the Te-Moak Tribe, along with the Duckwater, Ely Shoshone, Yomba Shoshone, and Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribes had signed the agreement as of Feb. 17.
Te-Moak Tribe Chairman Joseph Holley could not be reached for comment.
“It is the opinion of the Shoshone Paiute Tribal Council that the proposed [collaborative agreement] would not serve the people tribal leaders represent—our tribal members,” the Duck Valley letter states.
In a formal response dated Dec. 9, NGM Executive Managing Director Greg Walker says that the company “is grateful for the historic support that our Native American Partner Tribes have provided to Barrick Gold [Corp.] and Newmont [Corp.]. NGM is excited to build upon that legacy and develop an even stronger relationship going forward. We see the revised [collaborative agreement] as an opportunity to reaffirm NGM’s relationship with the Tribes … .”
Origins of the agreement
The original collaborative agreement from 2008 between then-Barrick and the tribes aimed to foster a relationship and define the mining company’s social obligations to the indigenous people. Most of NGM’s mines and exploration work occurs in areas historically and traditionally inhabited by Western Shoshone, Goshute and Paiute people.
The parties amended the agreement once before, in 2014.
Since the joint venture between Barrick and Newmont that led to the formation of Nevada Gold Mines in 2019, NGM saw the need to again amend the collaborative agreement.
The amendments, according to NGM, reflect the change in company, and include two additional tribes in the joint venture footprint: the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation and the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe.
The tribes are not obligated to sign the new agreement, and NGM states it will continue to honor the 2014 terms for any tribe that does not sign the 2020 version.
Complaints and responses
The Duck Valley letter alleges that NGM is not performing certain existing conditions and asks for NGM’s respect of the tribes as sovereign nations.
“There are many of the tribes … that do not agree with this [collaborative agreement] document, especially with the lack of performance of the last year-and-a-half of its social obligation to hire tribal members, the utilization of tribally owned businesses, the sharing of benefits or other items … ” the letter states.
In its formal response, NGM offered an explanation for each complaint while acknowledging a need and willingness to increase communication and collaboration with the tribes. The groups have since met to discuss the items outlined in their letters.
Among the complaints, the tribes assert that NGM has not made enough effort to employ tribal members or report employment numbers back to the tribes. They point out how NGM does not separate local tribes in reported employee metrics, because “other tribes’ aboriginal lands are not being impacted by NGM,” according to the Duck Valley letter.
American Indian or Alaska Natives made up 3 percent of the NGM workforce in 2020, according to the Community Impact Report.
In its response, NGM states it “agrees that there is ‘no greater benefit that can be shared than that of a job,’” quoting the Duck Valley letter. NGM says it prioritizes the hiring of locals regardless of race, and like other U.S. employers, does not track the tribal designation of a Native American applicants, although employees are allowed to share that information with the HR department.
The unsigned tribes also claim they have seen a decrease in the company awarding bids for contract work to tribal businesses since the joint venture.
“There are no tribal businesses, from the tribes listed, that are currently working for NGM,” the Duck Valley letter states, adding that tribal businesses want to work but “cannot break through the current barriers.”
NGM says that no tribal businesses have current contracts, because, “[t]o date, NGM has received a lack of competitive bids from the ten native tribes,” according to the formal response.
To the mining company, that suggests that there are limited mining-related support businesses or that existing businesses don’t know how to be competitive in the bidding system, according to NGM. The company says it is willing to work with the tribes “to “develop a robust pool of mining support businesses,” NGM states.
Sharing of benefits
NGM paid $292 million in state taxes and made $8.4 million into the community in 2020, according to the company’s Community Impact Report. Community investments include programs specifically designed to benefit indigenous people, and tribal members can take advantage of the company’s community-wide investment efforts such as the multimillion dollar I-80 fund to bolster small businesses.
Since the formation of NGM, the company has paid approximately $2 million to the Western Shoshone Scholarship Foundation to assist Native American students with higher education and employment opportunities; contributed $100,000 toward the Summer Youth Employment Program and WSSF Internship Program; and $1 million to the Elders Energy Assistance program, NGM reports.
Additionally, NGM provided about $400,000 of support through food distributions and personal protective equipment donations to Native Americans in 2020 to offset the impacts of COVID-19, according to NGM.
Some tribal leaders say tax money stops at the reservation lines, and that social investment programs and benefits outlined in the collaborative agreement do not do enough “for the tribes that have had ties to the land for thousands of years,” the letter states.
“Every waterway — springs, streams, all these watersheds — these mines are operating and damaging our water resources; not only that, but our environment, the survival of all people,” says Shoshone Paiute Tribal Chairman Brian Thomas of Duck Valley in a Feb. 10 phone call. “The desecration and removal of any artifacts, in our tradition and our beliefs, is not allowable. You leave it. That is what we as a tribe are trying to protect: what was left by our ancestors.”
Both parties plan more communication going forward, and both expressed their hope to settle on a mutually beneficial arrangement.
“NGM believes that the new [collaborative agreement] offers the chance to address the areas where both sides have fallen short, reset expectations, and encourage collaboration between NGM and our partner tribes/bands,” NGM writes in a letter to the Elko Daily Free Press.
The Duck Valley letter states that Shoshone Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation are “not resistant to entering a collaborative agreement with substance and that has intended measurable outcomes designed to benefit tribal members.”