OPINION: Manh Choh mining project gives Tetlin a path to self-sufficiency

Manh Choh is more than an economic opportunity and the promise of jobs. It is a legacy project for my people and the surrounding region. This vision goes back to 2008, when the late Chief Danny Adams and the village council members made it their priority to develop an economic future for their people. Chief Danny was a well-respected Tanana Chiefs Conference executive board member and a visionary leader in the Upper Tanana region. With the development of this mine, we will be able to be financially self-sufficient and continue to live our cultural and traditional way of life.

My name is Michael Sam, and I am the elected tribal chief of the Native Village of Tetlin. As a chief, my primary job is to look out for the physical, social and financial well-being of the tribal members I serve. The way to do this is to create a long-term source of revenue and employment opportunities for our members — and that’s what Manh Choh will do.

The majority owner and operator Kinross Manh Choh and its joint venture partner Contango have been in constant communication with the tribal council and Tetlin people. They have been diligent about keeping us informed and at the table every step of the way. We are respected and valued. They even asked us to name the project and we picked Manh Choh, which means “Big Lake” in our Upper Tanana Athabascan dialect. The name refers to Tetlin Lake, a place of great significance for us.

Our people have been employed on the project since the first drilling season and the numbers have grown as the project moved forward. For the first time in our tribe’s history, there are abundant opportunities for work in the area where we live. That has been a commitment the project operators have maintained every year.

To help us get ready for these jobs, Manh Choh has sponsored workshops, on-the-job training and job fairs. Several of us were invited to Fort Knox for one-on-one training. The company worked with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development to provide a $300,000 grant to the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Mining and Training Petroleum Service program to train area residents. These opportunities not only provided work, but also tools to have successful continuing careers post-mining.

To prepare the next generation, the project has helped youth develop work skills for a lifetime by endowing scholarships like the new Future Leaders fund at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, computers for Tetlin high school graduates and sponsorship of students to EXCEL, a program dedicated to improving education outcomes in rural Alaska.

Our people and Indigenous people in Alaska have been living off this land for thousands of years and we are owed the opportunity to secure our own future. It is really disappointing that people from an urban area, 250 miles away, are trying to block a project because they perceive that it might impact their daily commute. In doing so, they are effectively blocking our ability to have any sort of financial security and hope for the future.


It is important to note that Tetlin opted out of ANCSA decades ago because the tribe had surface and subsurface rights to their land, therefore tribal members are not eligible for scholarships or dividends that help improve the quality of life for many villages.

My community depends on the environment for our way of life and survival. It is a part of who we are. I personally have hunted and fished on Tetlin traditional lands my whole life. Participating in our traditional activities is done together, with our families and community. We have been involved in this project from day one. We have faith in the operator as well as the regulating agencies in Alaska and we are confident that the interests, land, culture and traditional ways of our tribal members are protected.

After mining has been completed, the project will leave behind major infrastructure improvements for our region to re-purpose and a trained workforce that can transfer skills to other projects both in-state and out. We will be able to fund services for our community such as health, education and transportation. Manh Choh will leave behind an elders’ home, which will support 35 beds for elder community members and elders from the surrounding area. The elders’ home will keep families together, enhance and enrich the lives of children in the community and support the sharing of traditional knowledge and activities.

We will be able to modernize our community and bring much-needed infrastructure to our remote village to improve quality and life for its residents.

I respect the concerns of other people, specifically those along the trucking route. Safety is a top concern for my community as well. The Alaska Highway is our only means of access to vital services that are critical to the well-being of my people. The trucking company has proven its safety record and I strongly believe they are going to operate safely. They are also going above and beyond by taking extra safety measures to ensure a safe operation.

So, I respectfully ask that you look beyond the highway to the larger picture of what this mine means not only to us but to the region and state. It means good, high-paying jobs and excellent benefits. It means almost half a billion new dollars for Alaska businesses. It means more revenues to the state. And it means we can continue to live our traditional way of life while securing a more stable economic future for our people.

We ask Alaskans to consider us when deciding how they feel about resource development projects on tribal land.

Chief Michael Sam is the elected tribal chief of the Native Village of Tetlin.

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