I began my tenure with Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) on June 5, 2006, when it was known by the name of its principal partner, Northern Dynasty Mines (NDM). I continued to work for the partnership until we were laid off in October 2013.
I was hired on as the local hire coordinator for the project. In this role I stimulated local hire, especially for the people in the Bristol Bay region. We employed individuals from the Nushagak side, Iliamna Lake region, villages on the west side of the lake and from around the state.
My earlier years were the busiest years I had working on the project. We had record-breaking numbers of employees -- in 2012, PLP had a total of 182 individuals from the region who worked on our project. Based on hours worked, it was the equivalent of 68 full-time jobs. As of August, 2013, we had employed 104 individuals from the Bristol Bay region. Based on hours worked, this equaled 63 full-time jobs.
During this time, NDM spent a significant amount of time training and building their work force from the region. We had employees with minimal experience working in many different departments throughout the project. Hiring and training resulted in employees operating as drillers supervising their own teams, working in a professional environment, being accountable for our jobs and having the benefits of working with people from different backgrounds and work experience.
PLP does not have a presence in the region now. These past few weeks, I feel the need to check in with previous employees/friends who were working on the project for several years. Some have moved on to different jobs; some moved out of their villages to seek work, some with luck and some with none; some remain in the village collecting unemployment or now depending on the state/federal systems in order to survive.
The majority of employees working on the project are Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) shareholders. A few years back, BBNC took a negative stance on the PLP project. I bring this up because we have so many shareholders in the region who are not currently employed who were benefiting from working on the PLP project.
I would like to challenge all BBNC shareholders in the Bristol Bay Region to make your voices heard. We want and need sustainable economic development out in the region so that we can live in our respective villages and continue to hunt, fish, gather, have the money to buy gas, shells, groceries, clothes and have four-wheelers, snowmachines and boats to live and survive in the villages.
Many say we have it easy in the villages. Those are the few lucky who do have the jobs.
The phrase that my Native corporation uses is "the way it's always been." Times have changed and will continue to change, as change is inevitable.
We all have cellphones now; years ago we had the CB. Long gone are the kerosene lanterns which I grew up with. We now have electricity -- my children don't even know what the lanterns are for. The older generations remember going out of state to attend high school. Now we have high schools in our communities. Many younger people do not know how to set a net for subsistence -- not their fault but ours, as teachers.
I do believe all of the board of directors for BBNC have lived in the villages before or are currently living where employment opportunities are plentiful. I challenge them to go to the smaller villages spend a week or two there and get the feeling as to what "villagers" are faced with today. I feel as a shareholder of BBNC my Native corporation should now step up to the plate, get its big boy pants on and figure out what to do in the Bristol Bay region.
The bottom line is, we need jobs.
Martha Anelon is the former local hire coordinator for the Pebble Limited Partnership. She lives in Iliamna.