Petition calls for Calista shareholder vote on Donlin mine

The site of the proposed Donlin Mine, 145 miles northeast of Bethel. (Dean Swope/KYUK)

Ahead of the Native corporation’s annual shareholder meeting in July, some Calista Corporation shareholders are circulating a petition for a vote on the proposed Donlin Gold mine. Calista owns the mineral rights to the mining prospect. 

Loren Peterson is the president of Mountain Village’s village corporation, Azachorok Inc. A year ago, the corporation passed a resolution calling for a shareholder vote on the proposed Donlin Gold mine. Now, a nonprofit called Shareholders for Economic Prosperity is circulating a petition. Peterson is its director as well.

“We think that it’s a good idea, because we like the idea of a democratic approach to this issue. We are not necessarily coming out for or against it,” Peterson said.

Native corporations are in a complicated situation. Their missions, as written in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, are twofold: to develop their resources for the betterment of their shareholders, and to preserve their culture. In cases of natural resource development, these missions can conflict. Peterson says that a shareholder vote could help resolve the tension over the proposed Donlin Gold mine.

“Normally, a lot of the leading corporations have visions and missions that they follow that are in line with how they invest. And we feel like, you know, there needs to be a broader discussion on what our values are, and we should probably be trying to move forward in a way that can be a win-win situation,” Peterson said.

Peterson says that he spoke with Calista’s leadership about the vote last year, but felt that they didn’t want to hold one because they wanted to develop the mine regardless.

“And so I kind of got the understanding that directors are more in favor of development because it is their fiduciary duty to the corporation. But at the same time, you know, as far as fiduciary duty, we also have a fiduciary, the directors have a fiduciary duty of loyalty to shareholders, and to care for the corporation and its assets,” Peterson said.

Calista sent a statement to KYUK reiterating its support of the proposed mine. That statement says, “While we do get questions about the project, our experience is that a majority of shareholders end up supporting the proposed Donlin project after learning about modern mining technology, Calista’s role in oversight, Alaska’s strict environmental protections, and more. We hear our shareholders, and we support continuing to learn facts before decisions are made.”

The corporation says that they have a process where shareholders can submit a resolution that calls for a vote on the mine. Calista says that no resolution has been submitted.

At the Association of Village Council Presidents’ annual convention last year, 35 tribal delegates passed a resolution opposing the mining project. Peterson says that so far, the main supporters of the petition are from Donlin Gold opponents. Peterson himself, along with Azachorok, Inc., is on the fence about the project.

“It means more income and revenue for Western Alaska, but it also may mean sacrificing some of our valuable resources. You know, the other side to that conversation, on the far other side of that is, have we exhausted all of our options in terms of growth for the corporation?” Peterson said.

He encourages shareholders who support the mining project to join the petition for a vote.

Calista will host its annual shareholder meeting online this year, because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The meeting is scheduled for July 3.