Donlin Mine Opponents Object To Alaska Congressional Support For Donlin Mine

The Donlin Mine, a Southeast Alaska project that critics say could threaten salmon runs in the Yukon-Kuskokwim watersheds, is, like the Ambler Road project, receiving support from Alaska’s Congressional leaders. And following an amicus brief filed by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R) and Dan Sullivan (R), and House Rep. Mary Pelota (D), opponents fought back.

The following press release is courtesy of Mother Kuskokwim:

Mother Kuskokwim Tribal Coalition deeply disappointed in Alaska’s Congressional delegation’s support for Donlin Gold Mine over Tribal requests, wild salmon

Bethel, AK – Mother Kuskokwim Tribal coalition members expressed deep disappointment with Alaska’s Congressional delegation, which today filed an amicus brief in support of mining interests planning what would be  the world’s largest gold mine in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The Yukon-Kuskokwim is one of the world’s largest river deltas and a critically important ecosystem that is more valuable than gold to people in the region. 

The amicus brief was filed by U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski and U.S. Representative Mary Peltola, who is from Bethel, AK, and who has previously worked for Donlin.

In an Associated Press story from 2022, Peltola said she wanted to use her campaign to elevate issues of food insecurity and ocean productivity. She also said she recognized how important fish, plants and other wildlife are to Alaska Native communities. At the time, Peltola said her litmus test for any development project is “social license to operate.” In the case of Donlin, she said she was not sure if there was social license to proceed, and “I defer to that.” 

Peltola also told the reporter that after six years, she left Donlin following a mine waste dam failure at the Mount Polley Mine in Canada. The Donlin Gold mine would have a bigger tailings dam that threatens catastrophic destruction to the region should it fail.  The danger posed by Donlin’s mine waste dam is one of the claims in the Tribes’ federal lawsuit challenging the mine’s federal permits and authorizations. An independent report released by Mother Kuskokwim earlier this month detailed the consequences of a tailings dam failure or breach. A copy of that report was provided to members of the Alaska delegation last week while tribes were in DC presenting the new data. 

“It’s a very sad day for our region, especially for the Tribes opposing the Donlin Mine,” said Sophie Swope, Executive Director of the Mother Kuskokwim Tribal Coalition, an organization supporting the Alaska Native Tribes opposed to the Donlin Gold development. “We met with Representative Peltola’s staff last week in Washington, D.C. and she is well aware of the widespread opposition to the mine in our region. The opposition of our Regional Health Corporation, Regional Tribal Consortium and many individual Tribal Governments shows that Donlin lacks the social license to operate. Tribes’ request for a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, as well as our demands for sound science and adequate Tribal consultation, are entirely justified. We are deeply disappointed by Representative Peltola’s lack of responsiveness and dismissal of our concerns.”

Donlin Mine LLC and Calista Corporation are defendant-intervenors in a federal lawsuit brought by six Kuskokwim River region Tribes who are challenging Donlin Gold mine’s federal permits and authorizations. The Tribes are Orutsararmiut Native Council, Tuluksak Native Community, Organized Village of Kwethluk, Native Village of Eek, Native Village of Kwigillingok, and Chevak Native Village. 

“We have so many concerns it’s hard to say them in a soundbite,” said Bernice Andrew, Tuluksak Tribal Council Secretary/Treasurer.  “It affects our village and our people, who have already been affected by mining, in so many ways. If our lands and waters are harmed, it affects our fish and wildlife.  If there is a catastrophic tailings breach, our entire village may need to relocate quickly — how can first responders relocate 500 people? Crooked Creek would be inundated in less than 30 minutes. Tuluksak is already affected by a small mine, Nyac, that has made our river non-drinkable and non-usable. The Donlin mine would be the largest gold mine in the world.  It will affect our river, our future, our food, everything.  We elected Representative Peltola to represent us, and by signing this amicus brief, she is going against us.”

Most Yukon-Kuskokwim Tribes are on record opposing the mine. 

The Village of Crooked Creek is the only Tribe that has entered into litigation on the side of the federal government in support of the Donlin Gold mine. The court allowed them to file an amicus brief in support of the federal agencies permitting the mine on April 16, 2024.

Here’s Alaska Public Media on Rep. Peltola’s reported support for the project, which contradicts her previous stance on the gold mining operation:

Peltola was against the mine when she ran for Congress in 2022. 

She’d been a community manager for Donlin Gold for six years. But in 2014, after a dam at the Mt. Polley mine in British Columbia burst and sent millions of gallons of contaminated material into lakes and rivers, Peltola quit Donlin Gold and became a fish advocate. She was executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission until just before she ran for Congress. Her campaign staff told reporters in 2022 that the Mt. Polley disaster was her turning point.

In the amicus —or “friend of the court” — brief filed late Tuesday, Peltola and the U.S. senators said the mine  “will be an economic engine for the region and provide significant employment opportunities in one of the most impoverished regions of Alaska.”