In remote Southwest Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim region, one of the largest and most vibrant river deltas on the globe, a proposal to build one of the world’s most massive gold mines churns forward. According to reports from state and federal regulators, its construction and operation could negatively impact human health and will destroy wild salmon habitat. This mine, known as the Donlin Project, has not received the same intense scrutiny via the press, conservation groups and government regulators as the infamous proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay. Despite that, Donlin poses similar dangers to health and environment.
The mine poses major environmental risks, including the destruction of salmon spawning habitats and releases of mercury into the air and water far in excess of human health standards. For example, according to the Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Army Corps, it is anticipated that if the mine is developed there will be a 40% increase in mercury deposition to surface waters near the mine. Additionally, the mine would decimate the Chinook, Coho, Sockeye and Chum salmon and would reduce or eliminate flow of water from headwaters to the mouth of these salmon streams.
Yukon-Kuskokwim residents and communities want to protect their sacred “Mother Kuskokwim” river from a massive increase in barge traffic carrying cyanide and other chemicals; a major gas pipeline with road access; and other major destruction. Donlin Gold would be the largest open pit mine in Alaska and would impact the predominantly Indigenous Yupik, Cup’ik, and Athabascan communities who depend completely on traditional and customary uses of the lands, waters and fish and wildlife resources.
By the fall of 2019, 13 Tribal Governments, the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, the Regional tribal organization called Alaska Village Council Presidents and the National Congress of American Indians had passed resolutions of opposition to the project. Meanwhile, Calista, the regional Native for profit corporation, and Donlin’s parent companies, Barrick and Nova Gold, have turned a deaf ear to the requests of the Tribes to slow down the permitting process and consider the human and environmental justice aspects of forging ahead against such widespread, local, community-based opposition.