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Prayer horse ride honors past, spurs activism and raises environmental awareness

Indigenous group rode from Schurz to Thacker Pass lithium mine, visiting more than a half-dozen mining-affected communities
David Calvert
David Calvert
EnvironmentTribal Nations
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After 10 days in the saddle, Josh Dini, Gary McKinney and Rusty Brady rode horses along the southern rim of the McDermitt Caldera in northern Humboldt County to Sentinel Rock, where more than three dozen supporters greeted them on Tuesday afternoon.

At the summit, the trio raised prayer staffs to the sky and the collected crowd celebrated the end of the group’s third annual prayer horse ride — a journey that began more than 200 miles away on the Walker River Indian Reservation in Schurz.

The prayer ride started in 2022 and honors Dini’s older brother Myron Dewey, a Paiute Shoshone filmmaker, photojournalist, activist and founder of the Indigenous media company Digital Smoke Signals, who died in a car crash in 2021. Dewey’s coverage of the Standing Rock movement against the North Dakota Access Pipeline rallied supporters to defend Indigenous territorial and cultural rights. Dini says the ride and horses — an interest he shared with his brother — keep him connected to his work as a water protector and land defender.

The prayer ride also aims to raise awareness of the effect mining has on Nevada’s Native communities.

This year’s prayer ride traveled through Yerington, Fallon, Wadsworth, Nixon, Lovelock, Winnemucca and Orovada. Along the way, the riders, walkers and runners prayed, sang and shared their story — focusing on younger tribal members — through conversations, educational demonstrations involving the horses, sweat lodge ceremonies, potluck meals and a film screening.

“We’re going to give this power back to our people who have been on reservations — this is their outlet,” McKinney said. “We’re bringing the culture back into those young adult years and showing them here’s another way [to live].”

From the summit of Sentinel Rock, Dini, a member of the Walker River Paiute Tribe; McKinney, a member of the Duck Valley Shoshone Paiute Tribes of Idaho and Nevada; and Brady, a Yomba Shoshone Tribe member, looked down on heavy machinery and early signs of the Thacker Pass lithium mine’s earthworks, where an open pit mine deeper than the length of a football field is planned.

Lithium Americas, a Canadian company, began construction on the site about 60 miles from Winnemucca in March 2023 after a series of failed legal challenges from conservationists, Indigenous communities and a local rancher.

Thacker Pass is the site of two Indigenous massacres. In 1865, according to a written record of the Snake War, Nevada cavalry volunteers murdered as many as 31 Paiutes at the location. The second massacre, according to Indigenous oral tradition, was an intertribal conflict that gave the area its Paiute name, Peehee Mu’huh, meaning “Rotten Moon.”

In July, the mine cleared another legal impediment when a panel of three 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges rejected a half-dozen arguments from opponents seeking to overturn federal land managers’ project approval.

In November, District Court Judge Miranda Du dismissed another lawsuit by tribal groups against the federal government’s permitting.

This is the first prayer ride since those rulings.

On March 14, the U.S. Department of Energy finalized plans to conditionally lend Lithium Americas up to $2.26 billion to build a lithium carbonate processing plant at Thacker Pass. The loan is the largest federal investment in a lithium mine to date.

The project has pitted environmentalists and Native Americans against the federal government’s efforts to accelerate a renewable energy transition

“Thacker Pass is a treasure trove of lithium — key to strengthening U.S. energy security and electrifying America,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a message posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, on March 15, adding that the loan will “help level the global playing field and supercharge clean energy manufacturing nationwide.”

In addition to the federal government, General Motors is investing $650 million in the Thacker Pass Project.

“I know we don’t have the money to fight against big corporations,” Dini said. “But we still have to honor our ancestors who died here. We have to remember our prayers so we don’t forget about where we come from. And so we continue to pray.”

Despite efforts to prevent the mine, the Thacker Pass Project is proceeding. McKinney, nonetheless, remains committed to protecting the land.

“There are many, many sites like this in our territories in our ancestral lands,” he said. “This was a bad project that wants to duplicate itself so it’s necessary for us to spread that awareness to the people in a way that is good, prayerful.”

“We are not protesters,” he stressed. “We are protectors.”

Members of the third annual Prayer Horse Ride gather in Orovada and sing a song before the start of their final day. The ride began in Schurz inside the Walker River Indian Reservation 10 days earlier. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Fencing around Lithium Americas’ Thacker Pass Project on March 26. The project, the future site of an open pit mine deeper than the length of a football field, began construction in March 2023 following a series of failed legal challenges from conservationists, Indigenous communities and a local rancher. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
In addition to the prayer horse riders, members of the group also walked the road to Thacker Pass. The ride included tribal members from Paiute, Shoshone and other tribes from multiple Great Basin communities. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
From left, Josh Dini, Rusty Brady and Gary McKinney ride along a fence line to Sentinel Rock overlooking Lithium Americas’ Thacker Pass Project. Dini is a member of the Walker River Paiute Tribe, McKinney is a member of the Duck Valley Shoshone Paiute Tribes of Idaho and Nevada and Brady is a Yomba Shoshone Tribe member. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
From left, Josh Dini, Gary McKinney and Rusty Brady ride along a fence line to Sentinel Rock overlooking Lithium Americas’ Thacker Pass Project. On March 14, the U.S. Department of Energy finalized plans to conditionally lend Lithium Americas up to $2.26 billion to build a lithium carbonate processing plant. The loan is the largest federal investment in a lithium mine to date. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Ride co-founders Josh Dini, left, and Gary McKinney ride toward Sentinel Rock near Orovada. The annual ride, started in 2022, honors Dini’s older brother, Myron Dewey, a Paiute Shoshone filmmaker, photojournalist, and activist who died in a car crash in 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
The Prayer Horse Ride, “Nanesootuhina Pookoo Goobakatudu,” in Paiute, is a traditional form of prayer that honors the past. Organizers stressed that they weren’t protestors but instead identified as land and water protectors. From the group’s Facebook page, “We will be riding in the vision of our ancestors of healing, strength, awareness, and unity to each community.” (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
From left, riders Rusty Brady, Josh Dini and Anthony Guerrero during a break on the final day of their 10-day prayer horse ride. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
“Cowboy,” a younger group member holds a Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe flag during a song marking the end of the prayer horse ride. This year’s ride traveled through more than a half dozen communities and featured educational demonstrations for children involving the horses. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Prayer horse ride co-founder Josh Dini summits the southern end of the McDermitt Caldera at Sentinel Rock overlooking Thacker Pass on the final day of the third annual Prayer Horse Ride. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Josh Dini, left, and Gary McKinney below Sentinel Rock. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
A group of Prayer Horse Ride participants perform a round dance during a song, marking the end of the ride’s 10-day journey from Schurz to Thacker Pass. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Josh Dini, left, Rusty Brady and others sing a song at the end of the annual prayer horse ride. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
From left, Josh Dini, Gary McKinney and Rusty Brady look down on Lithium Americas’ Thacker Pass Project. Thacker Pass is culturally significant to Paiutes and other Tribes like the Bannock and Shoshones. The area’s Paiute name, Peehee Mu’huh, meaning “Rotten Moon,” is a reference to an Indigenous massacre that occurred there. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Recent earthworks inside Lithium Americas Thacker Pass Project on March 26. The company estimates the site contains 179 million metric tons of “proven and probable” lithium ore reserves. In addition to an open-pit mine, the project will include an on-site processing plant. The mine is expected to produce lithium for at least 40 years. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
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