by Beverly Hoffman, Colin McDonald, Casey McDonald, and Gloria Simeon
Our lives and who we are is defined by the land that we came from. The Yukon-Kuskokwim delta may be remote and seemingly cut off from the world, but that is what makes it so special. Our geography is what has enabled our people to continue to live many of our traditional ways while blending modern ways with a life steeped in tradition, thousands of years old.
We also realize that amid the turbulence of the time we are living in, during the pandemic and climate change, our lands provide for us and give us security in knowing that we can still find the food that we need if supply chains are disrupted. This is what makes us feel prosperous in ways that mean so much more than financial wealth.
It has been difficult to witness, since the inception of the regional corporations, how Calista Corp. has chosen corporate standards over the values of our people in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region. There are times when a corporate board needs to consider the wants and needs of its shareholders over fiduciary gain, especially when a board decision stands to alter the land — our natural food store — to the point that our foods may no longer be safe to eat.
ANCSA was a settlement meant to serve as reparations, but it was also meant to be a means of assimilation. Just because this corporate model was given to us does not mean that we cannot re-shape it into a vision that best serves our native ways.
Instead, we as shareholders seem to be ignored by the leadership of our regional corporation. Last winter a letter, signed by 300 women in the region, was sent to the Calista board expressing our concerns about environmental impacts and how our way of life and relationship with salmon would be affected. Regrettably, no attention seemed to be paid, because no response was given to our communication. This lack of acknowledgement is a heinous display of disrespect.
Two decades ago, Calista entered into an agreement to develop the Donlin deposit with no input from shareholders or a vote of shareholders to weigh in on the decision. The time seems right to reconcile this wrong and there is an opportunity for shareholders to call a vote now. A petition is circulating and requires 10% of Calista Corp. share to be put forward by petitioners to demand that a vote take place for shareholders to decide.
The petition is not a proxy and it is not a means to vote in favor or against the Donlin Gold project. It is a path toward giving shareholders in the region an opportunity to decide whether or not we want the mine through a democratic vote. You can be for or against the mine; signing only means we want a fair chance to vote on the mine.
We are concerned about the mine because we do not see how our lives will not change drastically if the mine is built. We are also concerned about the voices of our people being lost under the guise of corporate fiduciary responsibility.
Remember please, Calista Corp. board members, your responsibility is to your shareholders, who are your people, and we hold our traditions and value them much higher than investments that stand to undermine our way of life.
Beverly Hoffman is an elder, Calista Native Corp. original shareholder and member of Bethel’s Orutsaramiut Native Council, as well as a community activist.
Colin McDonald is a Calista shareholder and ONC tribal member, Indigenous Advancement Manager for First Alaskans Institute and son of Beverly Hoffman.
Casey McDonald is a Calista shareholder and ONC tribal member, owner of Bird Song B&B and daughter of Beverly Hoffman.
Gloria Simeon is an elder, Calista Native Corp. original shareholder and Orutsaramiut Native council tribal member, as well as a mine opponent.