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It could be a scene from centuries ago. In the Nevada desert, Native Americans are protesting over a mining project they say desecrates sacred land. 

They are riding to Sentinel Mountain, which their ancestors once used as a lookout in times gone by. Here, they say, more than 30 of their people were massacred by US cavalry in 1865.

Today, the land is at the heart of America’s electric car revolution and Joe Biden’s clean energy policy

Native American tribal members say the mine neglects their interests and offends their history.

The route of the “Prayer Horse Ride”, a journey on horseback through mining-affected communities in Northern Nevada, is designed to publicise their objections.

James Matthews Native Americans protest feature
James Matthews Native Americans protest feature

“Being the original inhabitants of the land means we have cultural ties and roots to these landscapes,” says Gary McKinney, a member of the Duck Valley Shoshone Paiute tribe.

“To me, it’s sacred ground,” says Myron Smart. His grandmother survived the massacre of 1865 as a baby. Industrialising this place, he says, offends her memory and reflects the story of Native Americans through time.

“We’re people too. We have red blood just like everybody in the United States.”

James Matthews Native Americans protest feature
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Myron Smart says the land is sacred ground

James Matthews Native Americans protest feature
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Myron Smart’s grandmother, who survived the 1865 massacre

However, a US judge has rejected their complaints and the project is going ahead.

The open mine, which is on public land, will source lithium to power up to a million electric vehicles a year and will create 1,800 jobs in its construction phase.

President Biden aims to make the United States a world leader in electric vehicle technology and reduce reliance for lithium supply on countries like China.

The Thacker Pass project has supporters as well as opponents.

James Matthews Native Americans protest feature
James Matthews Native Americans protest feature

Lithium Americas, the company behind the project, insists the mine is not located on a massacre site. This was supported by a judge in 2021 who ruled the evidence presented by tribes “does not definitely establish that a massacre occurred” within the proposed project area.

Tim Crowley, the company’s VP of Government and External Affairs, said in a statement to Sky News: “Lithium Americas is committed to doing this project right, which is why we have a community benefits agreement in place with the local Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe that ensures benefits from Thacker Pass accrue to them.

“Concerns about cultural and environmental resources were thoroughly addressed in the BLM’s (Bureau of Land Management) approved Environmental Impact Statement, which withstood comprehensive reviews by the Federal District and Circuit Courts.”

However, members of different Nevada-based Native American tribes continue to oppose the mining project. They say their evidence of the 1865 massacre, and a separate inter-tribal conflict, is rooted in the oral history passed on from their ancestors, through generations – not collated with a court case in mind, but compelling nonetheless.

“Back in our ancestors’ days, they didn’t write any documentation down, they didn’t send letters, they didn’t write in journals,” says Gary. “So there was no way that the United States government could know our story.

“These stories have been passed down generation to generation, so we have direct lineage from survivors of these massacres, which is how these stories remain in our families.”

James Matthews Native Americans protest feature
James Matthews Native Americans protest feature

The courts have also rejected complaints by tribal members and conservationists on the environmental impact and planning consultation.

The project throws a focus onto the issues surrounding the pursuit of clean energy.

“First off, we have to acknowledge that we need electric vehicles,” says Amanda Hurowitz of Mighty Earth, a global environmental non-governmental organisation.

They are more efficient than petrol and diesel cars, she says, and they are needed for the US to hit its climate targets.

But they also need more mined minerals – like lithium – and getting those materials out of the ground has an impact.

“All mining operations need to get consent from the local people,” she adds, “and the more consent, the better.”

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President Raisi’s death a perilous moment for Iran regime – but don’t expect a change to foreign policy

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President Raisi's death a perilous moment for Iran regime - but don't expect a change to foreign policy

This is a delicate time for Iran. President Raisi was the second most important man in Iran, after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

His death, now confirmed, will have far-reaching consequences.

Although Khamenei has tried to reassure the country in recent hours, the regime will know this is a perilous moment that must be handled carefully.

Live updates – Iranian president killed in crash

There are mechanisms to protect the regime in events like this and the Revolutionary Guard, which was founded in 1979 precisely for that purpose, will be a major player in what comes next.

In the immediate term, vice-president Mohammed Mokhber will assume control and elections will be held within 50 days.

Mokhber isn’t as close to the supreme leader as Raisi was, and won’t enjoy his standing, but he has run much of Khamenei’s finances for years and is credited with helping Iran evade some of the many sanctions levied on it.

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Drone footage of helicopter crash site

Raisi’s successor will most likely be the chosen candidate of the supreme leader and certainly another ultra-conservative hardliner – a shift back to the moderates is highly unlikely.

Likewise, we shouldn’t expect any significant change in Iran’s foreign activities or involvement with the war in Gaza. It will be business as usual, as much as possible.

However, after years of anti-government demonstrations following the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022, this might be a moment for the protest movement to rise up and take to the streets again.

Read more:
Who was hardliner Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi?
‘Butcher of Tehran’ had fearsome reputation – many will fear instability
Hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi wins landslide victory

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Islamic State may seek to take advantage

There are also many dissident groups inside Iran, including an off-shoot of Islamic State – they might seek to take advantage of this situation.

Raisi became president in 2021 at the second time of asking and only with a turnout of 41%, the lowest since the 1979 revolution.

The president is seen as a frontrunner to replace Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (pictured) when he dies. Pic: Reuters
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The president was considered one of the two frontrunners to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamanei (pictured). Pic: Reuters

He was not a universally popular figure and many inside Iran will celebrate his death.

Consequences for supreme leader

Longer term, Raisi’s death will have consequences for the supreme leader.

He was considered one of the two frontrunners to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamanei on his death – the other being Khamanei’s son Mojtaba.

For religious and conservative Iranians, Raisi’s death will be mourned; for many though, it will be the passing of a man who had blood on his hands.

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi confirmed dead in helicopter crash after charred wreckage found

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi confirmed dead in helicopter crash after charred wreckage found

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has died after the helicopter he was travelling in crashed in a mountainous area of northwest Iran.

Rescuers found the burned remains of the aircraft on Monday morning after the president and his foreign minister had been missing for more than 12 hours.

President Raisi, the foreign minister and all the passengers in the helicopter were killed in the crash,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters, asking not to be named.

Live updates – Iranian president killed in crash

Iran‘s Mehr news agency reported “all passengers of the helicopter carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister were martyred”.

State TV said images showed it had smashed into a mountain peak, although there was no official word on the cause of the crash.

“President Raisi’s helicopter was completely burned in the crash… unfortunately, all passengers are feared dead,” an official told Reuters.

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President of Iran killed in crash

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The crash happened in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province

As the sun rose, rescuers saw the wreckage from around 1.25 miles, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, Pir Hossein Kolivand, told state media.

Iranian news agency IRNA said the president was flying in an American-made Bell 212 helicopter.

Read more:
Who is Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi?
Many will be fearing instability after ‘butcher of Tehran’ killed

Iranian TV showed the president on board the helicopter
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Iranian TV showed the president on the helicopter during a trip to Azerbaijan

TV picture showed thick fog at the search site. Pic: IRNA
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TV pictures from Sunday showed thick fog at the search site. Pic: IRNA

Mr Raisi, 63, who was seen as a frontrunner to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as Iran’s supreme leader, was travelling back from Azerbaijan where he had opened a dam with the country’s president.

Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, also died in the crash.

The governor of East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards were also said to have been on board when the helicopter crashed in fog on Sunday.

Iranian media initially described it as a “hard landing”.

The chief of staff of Iran’s army had ordered all military resources and the Revolutionary Guard to be deployed in the search, which had been hampered by bad weather.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first to react to the news of Mr Raisi’s death.

“India stands with Iran in this time of sorrow,” he said in a post on X.

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Ebrahim Raisi: Who is hardliner Iranian president?

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Ebrahim Raisi: Who is hardliner Iranian president?

A helicopter carrying Iran’s president crashed during bad weather on Sunday.

But who is Ebrahim Raisi – a leader who faces sanctions from the US and other nations over his involvement in the mass execution of prisoners in 1988.

The president, 63, who was travelling alongside the foreign minister and two other key Iranian figures when their helicopter crashed, had been travelling across the far northwest of Iran following a visit to Azerbaijan.

Follow live: Rescuers search for president after helicopter crash

Mr Raisi is a hardliner and former head of the judiciary who some have suggested could one day replace Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Because of his part in the sentencing of thousands of prisoners of conscience to death back in the 1980s, he was nicknamed the Butcher of Tehran as he sat on the so-called Death Panel, for which he was then sanctioned by the US.

Raisi and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev on Sunday. Pic: Reuters
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Raisi and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev on Sunday. Pic: Reuters

Both a revered and a controversial figure, Mr Raisi supported the country’s security services as they cracked down on all dissent, including in the aftermath of the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini – the woman who died after she was arrested for allegedly not wearing her hijab properly – and the nationwide protests that followed.

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The months-long security crackdown killed more than 500 people and saw over 22,000 detained.

People light a fire during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran, 2022. Pic: Reuters
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People light a fire during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran, 2022. Pic: Reuters

In March, a United Nations investigative panel found that Iran was responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Ms Amini’s death after her arrest for not wearing a hijab, or headscarf, to the liking of authorities.

The president is seen as a frontrunner to replace Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (pictured) when he dies. Pic: Reuters
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The president is seen as a frontrunner to replace Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (pictured). Pic: Reuters

The president also supported Iran’s unprecedented decision in April to launch a drone and missile attack on Israel amid its war with Hamas, the ruling militant group in Gaza responsible for the 7 October attacks which saw 1,200 people killed in southern Israel.

Involvement in mass executions

Mr Raisi is sanctioned by the US in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq war.

Under the president, Iran now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections.

Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine and has continued arming proxy groups in the Middle East, such as Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

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He successfully ran for the presidency back in August 2021 in a vote that got the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history as all of his potentially prominent opponents were barred from running under Iran’s vetting system.

A presidency run in 2017 saw him lose to Hassan Rouhani, the relatively moderate cleric who as president reached Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

‘Very involved in anything’

Alistair Bunkall, Sky News’s Middle East correspondent, said the president is “a major figure in Iranian political and religious society” but “he’s not universally popular by any means” as his administration has seen a series of protests in the past few years against his and the government’s “hardline attitude”.

Mr Raisi is nonetheless “considered one of the two frontrunners to potentially take over” the Iranian regime when the current supreme leader dies, Bunkall said.

He added the president would have been “instrumental” in many of Iran’s activities in the region as he “would’ve been very involved in anything particularly what has been happening in Israel and the surrounding areas like Lebanon and Gaza and the Houthis over the last seven and a bit months”.

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