Planned Westwin Elements Refinery Encounters Indigenous Opposition

OklahomaBusinessCommunity Indigenous
Collaborator: Frances Danger
Published: 03/26/2024, 4:23 PM

(LAWTON, Okla.) Westwin Elements, Inc., an Oklahoma-based company, will open a first-of-its-kind nickel, cobalt, and manganese refinery in Lawton in late 2024. Though the project broke ground in August of 2023, it has been causing ripples across Indian Country for far longer. 

Situated on a 40-acre tract on Bishop Road (one mile South of the Goodyear plant), the refinery spans the boundaries of the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Nations (KCA) and has raised concerns by Indigenous citizens about safety and lack of tribal consultation. Westwin Resistance, supported by Honor the Earth, has formed to address these concerns. The KCA Nations have issued resolutions in opposition to the refinery.

This opposition has not been without controversy, though. Comanche Chairman Mark Woommavovah came out in support of the refinery in late 2023, speaking on behalf of the Comanche Nation–an action that was not under his purview. When citizens attempted to speak with him at a January 2024 Comanche Business Council Meeting, Woommavovah said he had "no comment" and left the meeting. He was later publicly censured by the CBC in a meeting held on March 2 for public comments on the establishment of the Cobalt Refinery Project before the CBC formulated the Nation's public policy. 

The Comanche Nation and Apache Tribe of Oklahoma have both passed resolutions opposing the refinery project since. The Kiowa Tribe passed a resolution of concern for more consultation. 

Westwin Resistance members are concerned not only about the lack of involvement of the KCA, but also about the environmental impact they say the company has not taken into account. 

“The water all life depends on is under direct threat of contamination,” said Shawndae Lawrence, Kiowa/Kootenai member of Westwin Resistance. “The watershed drains directly into The Red River, and I’m not even sure if the communities downstream have any notice about the dangers of heavy metal pollutants possibly headed their direction."

Westwin is currently pursuing government grants, some of which require environmental impact studies. However, the company has not yet conducted any environmental impact or health studies. 

Westwin’s website states that it has Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) certifications, but a check of the IRMA website does not show Westwin listed. When contacted, IRMA said that “Westwin can't make claims about [the] chain of custody because [IRMA’s] Chain of Custody standard is still being finalized and isn't being used to audit such claims at this moment."

Though requested, Westwin Elements, Inc. has yet to provide a comment on the opposition or their IRMA certification. This story will be updated if such comments are provided.

Click here for Westwin Elements Refinery Research Documentation. 


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