Press Release

Hundreds Gather for Protect the Hesapa Event in Rapid City


Rapid City, SD – Last night, NDN Collective hosted a community event to introduce our campaign to Protect the Ȟesápa (Black Hills) from the dangers of large-scale mining. The community teach-in provided facts and expert testimony about what is happening to the local ecosystem while also providing opportunities for the public to get involved in the effort.

Hundreds attended the event, which was opened by the traditional Lakota drum group Wanbli Ska and the punk rock band Carrion Crawlers out of Kyle, SD. The conference room was full of activists young and old, unhoused relatives, traditional knowledge keepers, Lakota elders, and concerned Citizens. 

Currently 293,000 acres of the Black Hills are under mining claims, with 121,000 of those acres having been added since April of 2022. The area is in an explosion of mining interests prompted by the Biden administration’s push for increased mining of lithium in particular. International extraction companies are scrambling to exploit the transition away from fossil fuels by casting the Ȟesápa, sacred Lakota treaty land, as a sacrifice zone for their short-term profit once again. 

The damage to vital waterways, soil, habitats, and communities caused by mining and exploratory drilling is multi-generational in the best of cases and often permanent. Given Rapid City’s clear plans to expand economically over the coming years, NDN Collective organizers are pushing for the question of “critical resources” to be centered around preserving water and land for future use, instead of mineral extraction that only enriches people who will never set foot in the Ȟesápa.

In the Black Hills, most lithium is found in pegmatites – currently, South Dakota state law only requires an annual $100 permit to mine pegmatites, which falls into the same classification as gravel and sand. South Dakota also charges no state tax for minerals like lithium. These lax rules have attracted corporations, who can conduct large scale mining operations with little to no oversight, accountability, or financial risk. 

A Chance to Protect the Drinking Water of Rapid City 

“Right now, we have an opportunity not only to push for the banning of new mining projects along Rapid Creek and some of Pactola, but also to demand the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management expand it to all contributaries and the entire watershed!” said Mark K. Tilsen, local organizer for NDN Collective. “Our tribal governments must step up to enforce our treaty rights and protect the Black Hills. We will continue working to bring the people of Rapid City together to fight against industries that threaten our livelihoods.”

“In the Black Hills, the mining industry and the extraction methods they use are fundamentally at odds with the wellbeing of the water, the land, and the rest of South Dakota’s workforce,” said Taylor Gunhammer, organizer for NDN Collective. “According to the investment firm Morgan Stanley, 79 percent of known lithium deposits are within 35 miles of a Native reservation – we must ensure the burden of the Biden administration’s push for lithium mining is not placed squarely on Indigenous communities and lands.” 

Residents of Rapid City, the Pine Ridge Reservation, Ellsworth Air Force Base, and other downstream communities are those most at-risk for experiencing the impacts of water contamination. Pollutants pose a threat to farming and ranching operations, impacting livestock and crops by contaminating water sources. 

“Ȟesápa, aside from being unceded Lakota treaty land, is a unique and fragile ecosystem that deserves to be protected,” Gunhammer continued. “We cannot allow international mining interests to destroy it for a cash grab that will leave us all drinking poisoned water.” 

NDN Collective is mobilizing Rapid City residents to protect themselves from governmental and industrial forces who, left unchecked, would trade in our environmental future for the short term profit of people with no stake at all in our communities. There are a variety of ways to engage with these issues, and the public is encouraged to reach out to NDN Collective and join the fight to Protect the Ȟesápa. 


NDN Collective is an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to building Indigenous power. Through organizing, activism, philanthropy, grantmaking, capacity-building, and narrative change, we are creating sustainable solutions on Indigenous terms. 

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