Alaska Tribes Are Fighting Back Against Plans to Open Colossal Gold Mine

Two Alaska Native corporations are working to develop what would be one of the world’s largest gold mines while some of their shareholders oppose it and more than a dozen area tribes have joined in a lawsuit against it.

The Donlin GoldMine would be located on Kuskokwim River tributary 275 miles west Anchorage. The river is being threatened by several Alaska tribes. The river is important habitat for salmon. subsistence food for more than a dozen Yup’ik villages downriver.

Last week, three federally-recognized tribes held a virtual conference with the Center for Science in Public Participation. Earthjustice Alaska. The tribes represent Bethel, Chevak and Kasigluk.

Bethel, located 73 miles from the mine, is one of the communities. It has a two thirds Yup’ik population of 6,500 and serves as a regional hub for transportation, medical services, fuel, and groceries.

Participants urged opponents to the Donlin mining project to contact the Biden administration and Alaska to stop any further development and permitting. In a statement, they said “Donlin does not have social license to move this project forward. It will destroy vital salmon spawning habitat and is an existential threat to our ways of life.”

Donlin Gold calls the estimated 33 million ounce reserves at the proposed mine site a “rare find.” If developed, the mine is expected to produce more than a million ounces of gold annually for 27 years.

A mine open to the public that is 2.2 miles long, one mile wide, and upto 1,850 feet (170 stories) deep would be used to excavate 3.1 billion tons waste rock. Construction of facilities such as roads, roads, a port, an airport, a 300-mile gasoline line, and a water treatment facility are all part of the project.

Tribes vs. Native Corporations

Two Alaska Native for-profit corporations, created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act 1971, own the proposed mining site. The regional corporation CalistaThe subsurface rights are owned by the owner. The Kuskokwim CorporationThe surface estate is owned by, which includes 10 villages in the Kuskokwim River region.

Beverly ‘Kikikaaq’ Hoffman, Yup’ik, is a tribal citizen of Bethel’s Orutsararmiut Native Council. She’s also a Calista shareholder. At the press conference, Hoffman said she’s one of many Alaska Native corporation shareholders who oppose the mine.

She stated that 300 shareholders had written to Calista in 2019. “Our letters stated we are Indigenous women of the Calista region with strong physical, emotional, and spiritual ties to the people and the land.”

Hoffman said due to potential mining impacts such as warmer river water temperatures, contamination, and destruction of habitat for salmon and other wildlife, “we are in fear of losing our way of life with what is proposed to be the largest open mine ever developed.”

The Final Environmental Impact StatementThe project discusses potential impacts on subsistence, including reduced harvest levels and restrictions on access to resources and sociocultural changes related employment and shift work.

“The food nature provides is a lifeline,” Hoffman said. “Harvesting, preparing, sharing has always been a part of our Athabascan and Yup’ik way of life… It’s our responsibility to ensure that they are practiced decades from now. We want economic opportunity for all of our families, but not if those opportunities put our fish, moose, caribou, seal, walrus, berries, plants, and birds at risk,” she said.

Hoffman stated that shareholders have asked for a vote, but Calista has refused to hold one. Instead, she said the decision to approve the mine “was made by a board of 11 directors swayed by misinformation” from Donlin, and “caught up in the corporate mentality of making the almighty dollar. And, in my humble opinion, they forgot the people they represent.”

Another Calista shareholder, Ananarour Sophie Swope, Yup’ik, said, “I know my offspring will have the same gut biome I do, which is one that finds our nutritious foods that are so perfectly provided as soul food. I don’t want to start a family if I don’t have access to our traditional foods.”

Rural Alaska’s economy relies on subsistence. Swope stated that food shipped from other countries is costly and unhealthy. “I don’t want to turn to highly processed or microwavable foods that will give my children metabolic syndrome, diabetes, or even worse, cancer. This is my generation’s future.”

Projected Mine Benefits

The mine is expected provide as many as 1,900 jobs in the area during three years of construction, and as many 600 jobs during operation. It will create another 650 jobs in the region and provide wages of $40 million to the state by multiplier effects.

Director Thom Aparuk Leonard, Yup’ik, Calista Corporation Communications & Shareholder Services, said in an email, “Calista Corporation’s priority is supporting shareholders by protecting our land, our traditional way of life and promoting economic opportunities that benefit our people. We support the Donlin Gold Project because strict environmental oversight, good-paying jobs and affordable energy brought by the project will allow us to grow healthy communities.”

The CEO for The Kuskokwim Corporation, Andrea Gusty, Yup’ik, said in an email message, “TKC’s priorities are, and always have been, supporting our shareholders and protecting our land. We support development of our resources only when it can be done in a responsible way.”

She said while the company doesn’t control permitting processes, “we believe TKC’s contractual rights to oversight of the proposed Donlin Gold project add a layer of protection for our people and the resources we rely upon.…TKC’s role is ensuring environmental compliance and oversight. Both Donlin and Calista Corporation have been good partners in this process,” Gusty wrote.

She said The Kuskokwim Corporation “works hard to stay in constant communication with the 10 tribes in our region about any potential development, large or small. TKC believes that potential projects are stronger with a diverse range of voices and welcome the opportunity to discuss our stewardship and the steps we are taking to preserve our subsistence way of life now and for generations to come.”

Donlin Gold

Kristina Woolston, Donlin Gold’s External Affairs Manager, stated that Donlin Gold was responsive to public input.

It held more than 500 meetings with Alaska Native stockholders in the region since the project’s start, she said, and as a result, “the project adjusted its plans through the addition of the natural gas pipeline to address concerns regarding barge traffic along the Kuskokwim River.”

Donlin has established advisory committees on a variety of topics to further solicit the views of its partners.

“The first committee formed is the subsistence committee. This committee will further strengthen our ties and dialogue with the region’s residents. The subsistence committee focuses on the relationship between the Donlin Gold project and subsistence activities within the Kuskokwim River drainage,” Woolston said in an email.

Woolston said Donlin Gold was conceived by Calista and TKC as a way to improve lives in the region, “including by providing the income needed for the equipment to support a subsistence way of life, such as clothing, gear, fuel, snow machines, boats, four-wheelers, and more.”

“More than 70 percent of our employees come from the region and are on the frontlines of Donlin’s work to help safeguard the region’s abundant natural resources,” Woolston said.

She said the company continues to regularly communicate with tribes, community leaders, business owners and residents, “including Orutsararmiut Native Council, and (to) offer presentations and project updates as a standing offer,” she said.

Lawsuit and SEC Oversight

Olivia Glasscock is a senior associate lawyer at the non-profit environmental law firm. Earthjustice AlaskaI am representing my opponents.

“Most of the federal and state permits have been issued, but importantly we’ve identified substantial issues with some of these permits that really go to show that the permitting agencies are not working to protect waterways, human health, tribal sovereignty or ways of life in the region,” Glasscock said at the webinar.

“So we’re currently involved on behalf of Yukon-Kuskokwim tribes in two pieces of litigation in Alaska state court concerning the Clean Water Act Certification and the Pipeline Right of Way issued for the mine,” she said.

Tribes stated that the proposed mine would not comply with water quality standards to protect salmon habitat from temperature and mercury. An administrative judgeThe earlier ruling stated that the certification should not be revoked. However the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation ruled otherwise upheld the certification. Tribes are appealing the state’s decision.

Glasscock stated that the company needs both the water-quality and right-of-way permits to proceed. “But importantly if either of those pieces of litigation are successful the permits would be rescinded and would go back to the agency. And basically they would have to start back at square one and Donlin wouldn’t be able to proceed unless, and until they were to get a new version of either of those permits.”

NovogoldDonlin Gold’s parent company, Donlin Gold, has completed an Environment, Social and Governance(ESG) statement provides information to investors who are interested in investing in companies that are environmentally responsible. The Securities and Exchange Commission reviews all information. last year announced it would enforce regulations related to ESG and “identify any material gaps or misstatements in issuers’ disclosure of climate risks under existing rules.”

The feasibility study for the mine is being updated by the two parent corporations of Novogold, Barrick, and Donlin Gold.