Crooked Creek’s untold story of Donlin Gold
The Donlin Mine airstrip, with the camp at the far end, is seen from the air on Aug. 11, 2022. The mine site is in the hilly terrain near Southwest Alaska’s winding Kuskokwim River. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
The authors wrote this commentary jointly in their positions on the Crooked Creek Tribal Council.
As the Tribal leaders of Crooked Creek, a small Kuskokwim River village dependent on the subsistence way of life, we pay close attention to any threats to our sovereignty, culture, traditional land, and food security. We have seen the depletion of our traditional food sources. We know what it feels like when individuals in power say they are listening to Indigenous voices, but ultimately ignore them.
Our village sits about 10 miles from the Donlin Gold Project on the outside of an oxbow bend in the Kuskokwim River. The project has been a good neighbor. Over decades of work, Donlin Gold has listened to us, helped us find solutions to community problems, and has always been present and open with us. We are the closest community to the project. That is why we were surprised to learn that three Tribes from down the Kuskokwim had filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to ultimately stop Donlin Gold forever. Large projects always come with questions, concern and skepticism — and they should.
It is the responsibility of the project leaders to provide information, directly address stakeholder concerns, acknowledge potential impacts and find ways to solve them. That is what we have seen from Donlin Gold. They have met with us many times over the years, but with each visit, they hear our voices and find ways to work together toward a better project.
This isn’t surprising. Many of the people working for Donlin Gold are our family, friends and neighbors who rely on the same foods and cherish the same traditional practices we do, and will do whatever it takes to protect them. Donlin Gold respects and understands our traditions. For instance, Donlin Gold has started restoring aquatic habitat in a stream near the project impacted by historic placer mining activity, well ahead of any final decisions to develop a mine. This is the kind of land stewardship that we want to see from a mine developer.
Beyond that, Donlin Gold is on Alaska Native land, and we own the gold through our regional corporation, Calista, which will share most of their profits with Alaska Native corporations across the state, as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act mandates. That will ensure the benefits from Donlin Gold reach every corner of Alaska and all Alaska Native people — even those who oppose it.
We support Donlin Gold and the economic opportunities and benefits the project can provide, but it is not our place to degrade or scold those who don’t, especially when some of those people are our family, friends and neighbors. What we do want, though, is to invite the Tribes from our region who feel differently about Donlin Gold to meet and talk with us, the Crooked Creek Tribal Council, about the project. We want to listen to their concerns directly and share with them our experiences with Donlin Gold and how our relationship and trust has grown over time.
While it is disappointing these Tribes chose to go take their concerns to court, we believe we can still find much common ground if we gather to sit and listen to one another. We don’t expect to change anyone’s mind, but we do want to share our story.
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