Major gold mine decision ignores local voices of Yukon – Kuskokwim Tribes and Residents

BETHEL, AK –Yukon and Kuskokwim region leaders are outraged by today’s release on a Record of Decision on the Donlin Gold Mine by the Army Corps of Engineers, BLM, and State Department of Environmental Conservation. The project authorizations come despite many concerns and requests for Government-to-Government consultation with Tribes. To add insult to injury, the sovereign tribal governments of the region were barred from attending a press event held by the Federal agencies at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage where representatives of Donlin Gold, a company owned by Canadian based NovaGold were on site. The State of Alaska, BLM, and Army Corps of Engineers should ensure meaningful consultation and cooperation before deciding to make life-changing decision for a whole region of estimated 27,000 people.

“Donlin would be the largest gold mine in the world. The social and environmental impacts could be devastating to our subsistence region and traditional Yup’ik way of life where we have less opportunity for cash income but lots of subsistence foods from the land to keep our communities and families healthy,” said Mary Matthias, Natural Resources Director for Orutsararmiut Native Council.

Yukon and Kuskokwim tribes, joined by residents and business owners throughout Alaska, have expressed deep concern with the Donlin mine. The tribes have also asked Governor Walker to give an extra year to project permitting so that tribes can meaningfully participate in project review. State and Federal agencies however, have expedited the project at the cost of affected tribes and residents. “From talking with tribes, there is an evident understanding that the Yukon-Kuskokwim communities had an expectation for a ‘open door’ government-to-government consultations with Donlin’s officials and scientists in each community. Such as State and Federal governments made efforts of ‘public hearings’ that would take place on a community, regional, and state levels, prior to making a final decisions. Unfortunately, none of this has happened and there is still a concerned voice among tribes about the impacts of such a large project that is not being considered. This is a drastic move on behalf of communities that would be greatly affected by the mine,” said Alissa Nadine Rogers, Co-founder of Yukon-Kuskokwim River Alliance

The Final Environmental Impact Statement, a highly technical 10,000+ page document released earlier this year, details the impacts of the proposed mine. Potential impacts include increased levels of mercury both atmospherically deposited and in the Yukon and Kuskokwim River, damage to salmon habitat, disruption of smelt spawning, increased erosion of the banks of the Kuskokwim, and much more.

At this time of year, residents along the cash-scarce Yukon- Kuskokwim Region are berry-picking, fishing, hunting and putting up the food that sustains them throughout the winter. Donlin’s progress comes as a shock. In a recent survey conducted by The Orutsararmiut Native Council, most residents in the Kuskokwim region said they didn't know much about the Donlin Gold Mine Project, while others including the elderly still don't know anything yet about it and also claim that no one held public meetings in each community to inform them of how the mine might impact both their homes and way of life. “We issued surveys based on the importance of subsistence values and about the level of knowledge and concerns they have about the Donlin Gold Mine Project. Most surveys claimed gathering Subsistence from the land and water is Our Way of Life and if the Donlin Gold Mine goes through, we will lose everything. Other survey respondents said they didn't know anything about the Donlin Gold Mine,” said Matthias. “We’re shocked by the arrogance and deception from Donlin, the State of Alaska, and the Federal Government.”

“We are now calling on the Trump administration, the Walker administration, the board and staff of Calista, Doyon, and Kuskokwim Corps . . . anyone who may be an ultimate decider on this project, to slow down this rushed process. Please come to our region and our villages. Meet with our governments and our people. Work with us who live here to decide on whether this project is compatible with our local economy and way of life. From our tribes perspective, this mine is devastating. We are federally recognized Yup’ik Tribes located along the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers, where we have subsisted on the salmon, smelt, migratory birds, and other ecological resources of these rivers for thousands of years. There must be respectful leader-to-leader dialogue and decision making with our people, and it must happen now,” Matthias concluded.

The Orutsararmiut Native Council is a Federally recognized governing body for the community of Bethel, Alaska. This recognition is per Federal Register/Vol.6, No. 49/Monday, March 13, 2000/Notices for the community of Bethel. http://nativecouncil.org/ The Yukon-Kuskokwim River Alliance is an organized group of Yukon and Kuskokwim River federally recognized tribes and citizens that oppose large-scale mines that pose negative environmental risks. The organization is focused on protecting and preserving the land, river, and resources; to sustain the subsistence way of healthy living; to protect the fish, waterfowl, animals, river, and land of the YukonKuskokwim Regional Delta. https://ykriveralliance.wixsite.com/alaska.