Government Sued By Indian Tribes For Locating Solar Plant On Sacred Grounds

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Four Native American tribes are on the warpath against a plan by California and the Obama administration to build utility-scale solar plants across the Mojave Desert.

The Interior Department is being sued by Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi and Navajo tribes — collectively called the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) — for siting a solar plant on sacred tribal lands, including burial grounds and sacred sites in California’s Mojave Desert.

“The religion and culture of CRIT’s members are strongly connected to the physical environment of the area, including the ancient trails, petroglyphs, grindstones, hammerstones, and other cultural resources known to exist there,” according to a tribal legal filing.

“The removal or destruction of these artifacts and the development of the [Blythe solar plant] as planned will cause CRIT, its government, and its members irreparable harm,” the tribes wrote.

The Blythe Solar Power Project eight miles west of Blythe, California has been in the works for four years. The 485-megawatt, 4,000 acre solar power plant was given final approval from the Bureau of Land Management in August.

The project is part of President Barack Obama’s plan to build utility-scale solar power plants on federal lands. But now it is being fought by tribes who say the government didn’t properly consult with them when siting the project.

The tribes have been fighting the project for the past few years, failing in their initial attempts to block the project back in 2012. The BLM says it worked with tribes to minimize the project’s impact on their historical sites.

“The BLM conducted government-to-government consultation with 15 recognized tribes, including the Colorado River Indian Tribes, and held meetings with individual Tribal members and Tribal Council members, as well as conducting site visits,” a BLM spokesman told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The tribes, however, want to stop the Blythe project until the Interior Department complies with federal laws regarding historical sites.

“BLM has approved or is still actively considering 10 utility-scale solar energy projects within 50 miles of the CRIT Reservation since 2009,” the tribes argue. “Together, these projects cover over 35,000 acres of CRIT’s ancestral homeland.”

“Dozens of additional applications in this area are still pending. The BLM placed many of these projects in a ‘fast track’ review program that left little time for consultation with the Tribes about the cultural resources that would be impacted by the proposed projects,” the tribes say.

CRIT tribal homelands begin several miles northeast of the Blythe solar project site, but tribes argue the lands now being used for solar development had sacred significance to their ancestors.

“The ancestors of CRIT’s Mohave and Chemehuevi members occupied the Mohave Desert since time immemorial, using trails that cross the [Blythe solar project] site and leaving behind the burial grounds, grindstones, hammerstones, petroglyphs, and trails that have been found in the Project vicinity,” the tribe said.

“The religion and culture of CRIT’s members are strongly connected to the physical environment of the area,” according to the tribes. “Mohave and Chemehuevi members sing Bird Songs and Salt Songs, which guide the singer literally and spiritually along the trails that pass through sacred landscapes.”

“The physical objects, such as grindstones, hammerstones, and hearth sites, that were left in the area by their ancestors provide CRIT members with a link to their past,” the tribes argue. “In addition, CRIT’s Mohave members strongly associate these artifacts with the ancestors who used them. Disturbing them is taboo and CRIT’s Mohave members experience significant spiritual harm when such resources are dug up, relocated or damaged.”

But according to the BLM’s final review of the solar project, the agency “conducted government-to-government consultation for the [Blythe project] with a number of Tribal governments.”

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