House committee should heed the people of Bristol Bay, reject Pebble

Thursday, the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology is holding another hearing on the proposed Pebble Mine. As lifelong residents and youth of Bristol Bay, we have grown up living with the threat of Pebble Mine and we're writing to tell you that another hearing is unnecessary. Pebble has struggled for years to convince us that this mine would work in our home region. Science, traditional knowledge and common sense, however, prove that this mine won't work and doesn't make sense.

By hearing Pebble out again, this committee is disregarding our voice, as well as our neighbors' and millions of Americans who oppose this mine. We have spoken clearly on this issue time and again. Focusing on the minutia of the past two years is useless. Decision-makers in D.C. should instead recognize that Pebble is pushing a mine that we simply don't want. It's hard to appreciate the magnitude of the mine's impact from 4,000 miles away. Come and see our home, our land and resources for yourself, and you'll understand our concern.

We grew up learning the traditional salmon fishing practices of our ancestors. Some of us as deckhands on our fathers' boats, some on beaches with our extended family putting up fish for the winter and some at our family fishing lodges. We've swam in the bitterly cold waters that sustain the strongest wild salmon resource in North America, helped a tourist net an enormous rainbow trout and explored and subsisted in the tundra, which extends for miles in every direction.

This is our home and lifeblood. We knew this place was special, but until Pebble came to town, we never had to consider what life would be like without our clean rivers, our salmon, the family fishing business or the full smokehouses each summer and freezers each fall.

Pebble apparently doesn't see Bristol Bay the same way we do. They look at our healthy ecosystem that supports a sustainable economy and indigenous culture and see an opportunity for an industrial mining complex, a 700-foot tailings dam, roads cutting across the horizon and a deep-water port to transport the minerals currently buried deep underground around the world. They see investors and bottom lines and bureaucratic red tape. But they don't see us.

Since we were young children and elementary students, we've attended dozens of community meetings, hearings and rallies about Pebble Mine. We've testified at these hearings and made written comments to government leaders. We may not have fully understood the Pebble problem as children, but now that we are fishermen and fisherwomen we know that Pebble threatens to forever alter our landscape and harm the salmon upon which our culture depends. Now we realize it's our responsibility to carry on the work of the leaders before us and ensure Pebble Mine is never built in Bristol Bay.

When the tribes petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to act to protect Bristol Bay in 2010 and the EPA actually listened, we were thrilled and relieved. We are in disbelief that those actions are being questioned as a result of the same deception campaign Pebble deployed in Bristol Bay and then the rest of Alaska. We didn't buy it then, and neither should you now.


We know that the jobs our salmon provide will last forever, while mining jobs are temporary. We know that mega-mines cannot safely coexist with salmon. We know that the locals here and the majority of Alaskans do not want to see Pebble destroy Bristol Bay more than it already has by leaving exploratory equipment across the region.

Instead of continuing to pursue the mine, they should clean up the mess they have already made and move on.

Now that we are old enough to understand what's at stake, we know we have to fight for the future of Bristol Bay as our parents and grandparents fought for what we have today. We picture raising our children one day here and teaching them to hunt, fish and help with the family fish camp, boat or business, just like we did. None of this would be possible with Pebble Mine.

Committee members, before you make a decision about a mine that is in our backyard, on our home rivers and thousands of miles away from you, we hope you will visit. Come see for yourself what you are putting at risk. We'll show you how to split fish and how to mend a net. We'll show you a rainbow trout bigger than your arm; we'll show you rivers that literally turn red with salmon. We'll cook you some delicious sockeye and introduce you to our elders who will tell you it's been like this since the first people came here. We hope you will realize that you aren't making a decision about a just a mega-mine. You are making a decision about our land, our lifestyle and our futures. Please take this opportunity to ensure the safety and security of our future, not jeopardize it.

Triston Chaney is a junior at Dillingham High School. He is a commercial fisherman, having started with his father seven years ago on the F/V Robyn Darleen. After commercial fishing, he participates in an internship with the University of Washington Fisheries Research Institute on Aleknagik Lake in the Wood Tikchik State Park examining sockeye salmon. Tia Thompson, of King Salmon, is graduating from Bristol Bay High School this year and is considering a degree in journalism. For the last five summers she has worked at Alaska Sportsman's Bear Trail Lodge on the Naknek River. Rylie Lyon, also of King Salmon, is 17 and has grown up helping to run her family's fishing lodge on the Naknek River. She is a graduate of the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy. Tiarna Bartman was born and raised in Manokotak. She grew up living the subsistence lifestyle, learning to split and smoke fish alongside her mother and grandmother. She is currently assistant manager at Mission Lodge in Aleknagik. None of the four are affiliated with any group, but all have been active opponents of the Pebble Mine and were encouraged to write by Nunamta Aulukestai (Caretakers of Our Land), a nonprofit organization of 10 tribal corporations and 10 tribal governments opposed to the Pebble Mine.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.