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NCAI passes resolution supporting Tribes' resistance to Donlin mine

Nov 22, 2019

Another resolution against the proposed Donlin mine has passed. This time, at the National Congress of American Indians annual conference in New Mexico. This is the first time a national organization has supported tribes’ opposition of the Donlin mine.

Gloria Simeon stands at a mic and compels the National Congress of American Indians to amend a resolution that supports the Tribe's stance on the proposed Donlin Gold mine. (Photo courtesy Peter Evon)

As she prepared to speak at the conference of the National Congress of American Indians, Gloria Simeon remembered a tip from her friend, Mike Williams Sr. of Akiak.

"Because when I first started having to testify at any of these big meetings, I learned from watching Mike. And that he got as close to the microphone as he could," Simeon said.

A member of the Orutsararmiut Native Council in Bethel, Simeon was going to push for an amendment to a resolution. That resolution focused on protecting Bristol Bay fisheries from natural resource development, specifically the Pebble Mine project.

Simeon wanted to include the proposed Donlin Gold mine in the resolution, which would be built in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, closer to where Simeon lives. Both are large projects that are facing resistance from many tribes in Southwest Alaska.

"I really don’t remember much except I started shaking so hard like all that tension just washed out, and I was a jittery mess," Simeon said.

The amendment passed. This is the second time in two months that Simeon has advocated for a resolution against the Donlin mine.

In September, Simeon helped lead the effort to pull a resolution supporting the Donlin mine at the Association of Village Council Presidents annual convention in Bethel. Simeon, along with ONC, has opposed the mine for years. ONC fears that a mine accident could damage the salmon in the Kuskokwim River, the main food source in the region. Simeon says that for people in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, salmon is not just food.

"We depend on our fish, we depend on our ability to subsist, and that’s, that’s our life," Simeon said.

The NCAI resolution acknowledges the cultural importance of the Kuskokwim River and calls on federal agencies to “ensure a rigorous, thorough, comprehensive, and transparent environmental review”.

Calista Corporation is the regional native corporation that leased the mineral rights to Donlin. It cannot be a member of NCAI, but noted that a lot of its shareholders are. Calista says that it is pleased that the resolution supports a rigorous environmental review process.

In a statement to KYUK, Calista said that “Calista supports Donlin Gold because modern mines developed in Alaska have a proven positive track record of environmental protection and economic stability.”

The Donlin Gold mine received its federal permits last year. The Pebble Mine project is close to receiving the final version of the environmental impact statement, which would complete the environmental review process. Donlin Gold has said that it plans to build the mine as safely as possible.

Meanwhile, Calista is facing more pressure to let shareholders vote on the proposed Donlin Gold project. ONC just passed another resolution asking Calista to allow an advisory vote during Calista’s annual meeting in 2020.