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Why we oppose the Donlin mine

  • Author: 136 women who are Calista shareholders and Southwest Alaska residents
    | Opinion
  • Updated: February 14
  • Published February 14

The Donlin Gold mine work camp and runway are seen from the air. The project is about 150 miles northeast of Bethel and 280 miles west of Anchorage. (Lisa Demer / ADN archive)

Dear CEO Andrew Guy and Calista Board of Directors:

We are indigenous women of the Calista region with strong physical, emotional and spiritual ties to the people and the land. We are also Calista shareholders who are concerned with the development of the Donlin Gold mine and how that will impact our salmon-spawning river. We are in fear of losing our way of life with what is proposed to be the largest open-pit mine ever developed.

The Kuskokwim River is a lifeline for so many communities in this region, and it is our responsibility to protect and care for the river and surrounding lands and the food it provides. Almost every day of the year you can walk by the river in Bethel and see people fishing off the seawall, setting nets for lush and whitefish, and in the summer, dipping for smelt. This food, gathered from all over the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, is shared with all of you and many others who live outside the region. Harvesting, preparing and sharing these foods has been part of the Yup’ik way of life from time immemorial. We continue this tradition not only for our children’s survival, but for the survival of future generations as well. It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that these traditions can be practiced decades from now. We know you love the region just as we do, and hope you understand why we are opposed to this development.

We understand the need for economic development in this region. We have family members living in villages where it’s hard to find steady paying jobs. We want economic opportunities for all of our families, but not opportunities that will put fish, moose, caribou, seal, walrus, berries and birds at risk. We know it is a challenging task for Calista staff and board members to resolve economic issues in this region, but with more shareholder involvement, we believe there are other solutions that will not put our subsistence way of life at risk. Many studies have shown how good our first foods are for us; it would be a huge disservice to future generations to deny them of their right to those foods. Our elders before us have sustained our way of life and stressed the importance of protecting it; it is now our turn as the upcoming generation of elders to ensure that our children have their traditional foods, which is an integral part of our culture.

We do not believe that enough information has been shared with communities about this project. The Calista board must address what could or will happen to our waters and lands as a result of the development of this mine. Communities also need to know about potential failures of the tailings dam that would create a toxic environment for our people. How far will tailings move if there is an overflow of 10 percent of them when the mine is five years into operation, or 15 years into operation? What emergency communication is in place if there is a break in the dam? Can the tailings, if they reach the river, be cleaned up? We are also concerned that the mine is designed to flush contaminants from the waste rock into the open pit, forever, and that water will need to be treated forever. We are concerned about whether we will have any say in decisions. We are concerned about how we will know if our foods are safe. We ask the Board to be open and honest about the hazards of this mine.

We are daughters, mothers, grandmothers, aunties, nieces, cousins and wives. We know subsistence gathering is as important to you as it is to those of us who live in this region. We urge you to revisit the Donlin gold mine and put it to a vote of the shareholders. We look forward to working with you on this matter. Quyana for your time, and all the work you do for the people of this beautiful region.

Respectfully,

Beverly Kikikaaq Hoffman, Bethel

Yuktaq Fannie Black, Bethel

Cakicaq Jean Simon, Bethel

Katie Nick, Russian Mission

Regina Randall, Holy Cross

Jean Mute, Bethel

Alissa Rodgers, Bethel

Sophie Anvil, Bethel

Olga Alexie, Mountain Village

Danielle K. Asiksik, Bethel

Elliemae Charles, Kipnuk

Carol Hunter, Bethel

Jessica Alexie, Quinhagak

Olga Engebreth, Bethel

Heather A. Henderson, Bethel

Josephine Andrew, Bethel

Sadie Lazano, Kongiganak

Charlene Nicori, Quinhagak

Agnes Aloysius Hoffman, Upper Kalskag

Mary Brink, Kasigluk

Vera Wuya, Eek

Pauline A. Bially, Mountain Village

Fannie Smith, Quinhagak

Lillian Lliabon, Akiak

Monica Sheldon, Alakanuk

Mary E. Tunuchuk, Chefornak

Esther Green, Bethel

Dana Henry, Quinhagak

Eula David, Scammon Bay

Lynda Bender, Aniak

Mary Beaver, Kasigluk

Kristine Nicori, Quinhagak

Susie Mute, Kongiganak

Arlene Shimanak, Goodnews Bay

Greta Clark, Wasilla

Yvonne Jackson, Bethel

Emma Fullmoon, Quinhagak

Janessa Esquible, Bethel

Danielle M. Moss, Bethel

Melissa Nicori, Kwethluk

Lillie Stepan, Quinhagak

Staretta Abdiu-Lucas, Bethel

Anna May Tinker, Bethel

Pauline Echuck, Goodnews Bay

Jackie Nicori, Quinhagak

Elizabeth Martz, Bethel

Rainy Diehl, Aniak

Esther Donhauser Diehl, Stony River

Dana Diehl, Aniak

Deanna Price, Anchorage

Nikki Pollock, Bethel

Roberta Gregory, Bethel

Kathleen Kline Leu, Willow-Bethel

Aryak Lucy Andrew, Kwigillingok

Ruth Imagalrea, Hooper Bay

Andy Hunt, Mekoryuk

Maria Steppenback, Kwethluk - Anchorage

Dena M. Drake, Fort Yukon-Bethel

Mussy Chingliak, Bethel

Elizabeth “Dit” Hoffman, Bethel

Ella Kinegak, Bethel

Bertha “Bea” Kristovich, Bethel-Napaimute

Nita Rearden, Kotlik - Bethel - Homer

Aryak Kathleen Simon, Tuntutuliak

Shenai Simeon, Aniak

Alice Julius, Goodnews Bay

Akalleq Andrea Sanders, Anchorage

Lucy Simeon, Chuathbaluk

Sophie Evan, Napaskiak

Francine Kvamme, Aniak

Celeste Adkins, Aniak

Katie Rhoel, Bethel

Nikki Micheals, Toksook Bay

Selena Kalistook, Bethel

Melanie Fredericks, Bethel

Kelsey Ciugen Wallace, Bethel

Sabai Rhonda Simon, Tuntutuliak

Pauly Ayojak, Goodnews Bay

Fannie Moore, Quinhagak

Vivian Alikar-Glore, Toksook Bay

Maxine Corapi, Palmer

Marilyn Johnston, Bethel

Jonica Thomas, Bethel

Zoya Jenkins, Napaskiak

Valerie Thomas, Bethel

Pauline Thomas, Akiak

Verna Nicholai, Akiak

Katherine Egoak, Bethel

Miranda Strauss, Kongiganak

Arra Ina Marie Hunter, Bethel

Adrienne Welch, Bethel

Catellag Ardyce Turner, Bethel

Ally Amik, Bethel

Roxanne Evan, Aniak

Olinka Breaux, Bethel

Shiela Henrickson-Davis, Bethel

Tiffany Bender, Aniak

Dyane Green, Bethel

Debra Samson, Bethel

Sarah Engebreth, Bethel

Carey Atchak, Bethel

Casey Tugkar McDonald, Bethel - Anchorage

Kathleen Naneng, Bethel

Stephanie Butte, Bethel

Jackie Hoffman, Bethel

Eva Hoffman, Bethel

Dolly Angstman, Bethel

Melvina Kinegak, Bethel

Leandra Strauss, Kongiganak

Deborah Michael, Bethel

Marieann Norcross, Bethel

Denise Kinegak, Bethel

Genevieve Maczynski, Bethel

Carol Samuelson, Bethel

Mary Laraux, Bethel

Hazel Chaney, Bethel

Marjeannie Fisher, Bethel

Marie Kupanoak, Bethel

Alaina Ctibor, Anchorage

Nanugak Jean Ivon, Kongiganak

Ann Koester, Bethel

Loubova Powers, Sleetmute

Lorraine Mellick-Mihaljevic, Sleetmute - Lacey, Washington

Anastasia Evangelista, Tacoma, Washington - Sleetmute

Madison Mellick, Sleetmute

Melanie Ann Charles, Bethel -Anchorage

Chelsea Hoffman, Bethel

Leanna Aanaq Isaac, Bethel

Molly Sakar, Crooked Creek - Anchorage

Kurin Miller-Lacey, Washington-Sleetmute

Marjorie Mellick, Sleetmute

MaryLee Willis, Stony River

Marie Yako, McGrath, Sleetmute

Olga Pepperling, Crooked Creek

Sandra Gregory, Sleetmute

Linda Evangelista, Kent, Washington - Sleetmute

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