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They ran 200 miles in 6 days to protest lithium mine near sacred Hualapai hot spring

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

A group of runners and walkers from the Hualapai Tribe finished trekking more than 200 miles over six days from western Arizona to the Valley on Tuesday. They were protesting an open-pit lithium mining operation near what they say is a sacred hot spring in the Sonoran Desert.

Hualapais rejoiced right outside the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix after an arduous journey that started almost a week ago in the town of Wikieup.

Ivan Bender, a Hualapai, organized the Protect Ha’Kamwe’ Prayer Run, who shared that his idea for a spiritual trip once came to him in a dream.

“Through a prayer, we’re here, to come here, and bring something nice, a voice. If you believe in prayer, that's why we're here,” said Bender. “It’s not a miracle. Our ancestors were already waiting for us.”

Possible water contamination and the desecration of this sacred site are concerns that Bender and his grassroots allies repeatedly raised.

The Hualapai Tribal Council even passed a resolution opposing the proposed mine claim area in 2021.

Other tribal communities, near and far, traveled to greet them at Wesley Bolin Plaza. They spent hours outside in the sun, examining their relationships with extractive industries that the state of Arizona deeply relies on, like copper and lithium.

Each had their own struggle to share, from the Tohono O'odham Nation’s fight against Rosemont Mine to the battle over Black Mesa on the Navajo Nation.

Earlier this month, the Australian company Arizona Lithium, also known as AZL, inked an agreement with the tribally-owned utility Navajo Transitional Energy Company, or NTEC, to develop the Big Sandy Lithium Project in Mohave County.

Part of that deal also included NTEC CEO Vern Lund joining AZL’s board. In a joint statement, both companies wrote that they aim to prioritize “appropriate cultural and environmental safeguards throughout the process.”

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Gabriel Pietrorazio is a correspondent who reports on tribal natural resources for KJZZ.