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Time to protect Bristol Bay cultures, not sell them

Everett Thompson

Count me among the Alaska Natives who are saddened by multinational mining companies who work tirelessly to create the illusion of local, Native support for their dangerous projects. They call it “local consent” or “social license” when they think we aren’t listening.  In board rooms in London and Vancouver, men in suits sit to budget and calculate the cost of our consent. They predictably put a select few on their payroll, have them form third-party groups, and head to our nation’s capitol to give our leaders a false impression. It is currently happening here in Bristol Bay, and I’m writing to set the record straight.

The people of Bristol Bay overwhelmingly oppose the proposed Pebble Mine. Our Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiq people who have thrived on our land for thousands of years know the Pebble Mine could devastate our environment and therefore our cultures.  Our subsistence way of life couldn’t exist without our pristine environment our ancestors fought to ensure we would have for the future generations. Why would we ever consent to the potential destruction of our people to develop what could be the world’s largest copper and gold mine at the headwaters of our bay -- home to the greatest salmon run left on our planet.

The most recent survey conducted by Bristol Bay Native Corporation showed more than 80 percent of their in-region shareholders do not approve of the project.  Perhaps more impressively, less than 10 percent of local residents strongly support it. That’s why I was so shocked when I read that a group called “Nuna Resources” traveled to Washington D.C. to attempt to skew our region’s resounding opposition to the Pebble project.

Nuna Resources is funded entirely by the multinational mining companies who seek to develop Pebble Mine.  Their five member board consists of high-profile individuals who contract directly and indirectly with the companies who want to develop Pebble. So as Pebble is effectively paying their salaries, they have the nerve to go back to DC using the disguise of “cultural survival” to promote Pebble. Anyone in Bristol Bay who knows anything about subsistence and our cultures has no doubt that first and foremost for our cultures to survive we have to respect and protect our land and waters in Bristol Bay. Shame on Nuna Resources for abusing and using their heritage to promote the Pebble Mine. They even had the nerve to criticize us for partnering with the coalition of stakeholders such as commercial fishermen and sportsmen who agree that developing Pebble poses an unacceptable risk to not only our subsistence way of life, but also our sustainable resource based economies.

The native people of Bristol Bay are fighting Pebble for cultural survival.  Not because of profits, self interest, or a corporate board decision, but because we have to protect our salmon, land, and water to ensure our way of life continues for our the generations to come.

This is why our tribal governments, Native corporations, and others have banded together to ask the Environmental Protection Agency to use their power to take a closer look at our region and protect Bristol Bay. They heeded our call and we are awaiting the release of their Watershed Assessment this spring. We are thankful the EPA is upholding their trust responsibility to our tribes and have welcomed their visits to Bristol Bay to listen to our people’s overwhelming concern about Pebble.

Throughout our history, even in times of great change and uncertainty our ancestors have ensured our cultures survived. The time has come for this generation to work for our cultural survival by fighting unsustainable resource development like Pebble. It’s a sad day for the Alaska Native community when people like those who run Nuna Resources abuse their connection to our land and heritage in the name of greed. But in Bristol Bay we know the resounding opposition to Pebble proves our cultures and people don’t have a price tag.

Everett Thompson is a subsistence and commercial fisher who lives in Naknek year-round, he is a tribal member of Naknek Native Village and is a shareholder of four of Bristol Bay's regional corporations.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.