As the proposed Donlin gold mine moves through the permitting process, more tribes in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta are speaking out against it. Six tribes have passed resolutions against the proposed mine in the past two months; eight have spoken out against it in the last two years.
Napakiak is one of the tribes. Tribal administrator David Andrew says the village council is worried about possible impacts to salmon.
“They were concerned about salmon,” Andrew said. “That’s our life. Salmon, our life.”
Subsistence is a way of life for many families in the Y-K Delta. And Donlin would be one of the biggest gold mines in the world, built next to the Kuskokwim River. Many residents worry about the impact to subsistence resources.
The Y-K Delta is also one of the poorest regions in the state, and Donlin Gold, the company developing the mine, promises jobs for locals. But some tribes think the risks to their food and health are too high to support the project.
Minnie Andrew is the assistant tribal administrator for Kongiganak. The tribe passed its anti-Donlin resolution last week, and she says they discussed the potential jobs before the vote.
“They were mostly talking about the cons,” Minnie Andrew said. “The pros — it would bring jobs, but the cons are more.”
Several of the tribes passing anti-Donlin resolutions did so after the Orutsaramiut Native Council held their first public demonstration against the project in June.
And most of the tribes with anti-Donlin resolutions so far live about 100 miles down river from the proposed mine site. Only one tribe on the Yukon River took a stance against it. So far, it’s unclear if any tribes directly next to the mine have passed any resolutions about Donlin.
Several of the tribes with anti-Donlin resolutions also signed on to a letter sent to Gov. Bill Walker protesting the mine. However, Walker supports the project.
Donlin Gold spokesman Kurt Parkan says the company plans to develop the mine safely and responsibly.
“We welcome people’s opinions we know there is a variety of opinions in the community,” Parkan said. “We get a lot of people asking us when the jobs are going to start and we also understand that people have concerns that they don’t think can be adequately addressed.”
Meanwhile, Earthjustice, a national environmental group, sent a letter on behalf of four of the tribes asking the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to deny a crucial permit for Donlin.
The project needs more than one hundred permits before it can start mining and expects to get the major ones out of the way this year.