Ekwok Natives Limited announced Friday that it is no longer intends to be a member of Nunamta Aulukestai, a non-profit association of 10 Bristol Bay village corporations.
Ekwok Natives passed the resolution at board of directors meeting by a 4-1 vote. Jimmy Hurley Sr. is the recently elected president of the board. He said the decision to cease affiliation was made to protect shareholders from the potential cost of litigation related to the proposed Pebble Mine.
“In the long term, we’re looking at the safety of a small corporation like us,” Hurley said. “To have risks with litigation, especially with what’s going on in Washington D.C. now with a new president and possibly with the Pebble Mine, we’ve got to look at the long run for shareholders. I think Trustees of Alaska and Nunamta should explain to all the other native corporations what’s the risk in losing. If you don’t know that, you might be putting your corporation at risk.”
Nunamta was among several who sued to challenge the public noticing of the state’s permits for Pebble’s exploratory work. They lost that challenge in a 2011 Superior Court ruling, but the Alaska Supreme Court overturned the decision in 2015. The court also found in favor of the challengers who might’ve been liable to the state and Pebble for legal fees.
Kim Williams is Nunamta Aulukestai’s executive director. She said that since winning that case, the organization has not been involved in lawsuits with Pebble.
“We have no litigation against Pebble at this time. Nothing,” Williams stated.
Williams also said that if they bring a lawsuit forward in the future, the member village corporations would not be held financially liable for an opponent’s legal fees if the plaintiffs lose and the court orders them to pay. She explained that the decision to file a lawsuit rests with Nunamta’s board of directors.
“It doesn’t go all the way back to the village corporations or tribal governments, so it would remain isolated within Nunamta Aulukestai if there ever was another future court case,” Williams said.
Hurley is out of the state, and Williams said she has been unable to reach him by phone since Ekwok Natives Limited made the announcement. She hopes, however, that the corporation will reconsider its decision.
“I am more than willing to go up and talk to their new leadership to say, ‘These are the things that are happening with Nunamta Aulukestai, and we hope you would not depart and leave our organization,’” Williams said.
Ekwok Natives Limited also announced that they are also disassociating themselves with Trout Unlimited and Trustees of Alaska.
Hurley said he has long opposed the Pebble project, but also believes that it may soon provide work opportunities for young people in the village.
“We need jobs in this area,” Hurley said. “We’ve had a lot of people who worked on the mine over there, and everybody’s afraid. I’ve seen some young guys from Stuyahok or here. They get shunned you know, and that’s not right for people who need jobs, who need money. They have families. You’ve got to look at the environment, and if there’s money out there to be made, they’ll come home, and they’ll provide. It’s better than waiting for a welfare check or food stamps if you have a job. So that’s what you have to look at on the long run for your people.”