Dunleavy Administration declines Kuskokwim Tribes government-to-government Donlin Gold Project Consultation

Dunleavy administration reverses state policy on Tribal relations

by ONC Staff

Bethel, Alaska – On January 30, 2019, Orutsararmiut Native Corporation sent a letter to the Dunleavy administration requesting government-to-government consultation regarding the Donlin Gold Project (Project).

On March 27 and April 5, 2019, the Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang, Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige, and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune sent a joint letter denying ONC’s request for consultation and to build a working relationship between agencies and tribes of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region.

“Our concerns and request for dialogue on waste management, reclamation permits, fish habitat and many other permits have been ignored repeatedly by the State,” said Peter Evon, ONC Executive Director. “Given our voices and rights as tribal governments have been consistently ignored, our only recourse has been to challenge these permits that would allow Donlin Gold to operate outside of state water quality standards and leave a toxic pit in the Kuskokwim drainage that will require water treatment forever.”

This letter asserted that Tribal Governments lack any status different from any other interest group in Alaska and that state law forbids the requested consultation, stating that consultation is a Federal process and that the bare and/or non-existent notice-and-comment periods required by state law provide “[a]dequate opportunities” for Tribes.

This is a reversal of the longstanding state positions backed by Administrative Order No. 186 issued in 2000 by Governor Knowles, Administrative Order No. 300 issued by Governor Walker in 2018, rejects the 2017 Attorney General Opinion and consistent holdings of the Alaska Supreme Court since 1996, recognizing the sovereignty of Alaska Tribes.

● Gov. Knowles’ AO No. 186 proclaiming, “the State of Alaska recognizes and respects the governmental status of the federally recognized Tribes within the boundaries of Alaska” and that it is State policy “to work on a government-to-government basis with Alaska’s sovereign Tribes.”

● Governor Walker’s AO No. 300 stated “It is the policy of the State of Alaska to recognize Alaska Tribes’ sovereignty by interacting and engaging with Alaska Tribes on a government-to-government basis.”

● 2017 Attorney General Opinion: “The law is clear. There are 229 Alaska Tribes and they are separate sovereigns with inherent sovereignty and subject matter jurisdiction over certain matters.”

The Commissioners have failed to respond to numerous requests for consultation or even meetings, almost completely ignoring the requests of the Tribes. In their joint letter, the Commissioners’ describe the public process as “extensive” but in truth it has been minimal and non-responsive. Public announcements are made on major decisions with only a brief comment period for written public comment, if any at all. Public meetings have been held on few occasions but are unhelpful with no inclusion of meaningful exchange of views with Tribal representatives.

Since taking office last December, the Dunleavy administration has issued three final major permits and dozens of new draft permits for the project without any consultation with Tribal Governments.

“The significant impacts of this policy to our Tribal citizens go against the already established Administrative Orders, policy opinions and holdings” added Mary Mathias, Natural Resources Director for ONC. “The Dunleavy Administration fails to recognize this project is in the lands and waters on which our people have relied for generations. The recent joint letters from the Commissioners make it clear that the state’s blatant historical disrespect of acknowledgment and inclusion of the pre-colonial Tribes is now a matter of official state policy, repudiating more than twenty years of settled law.”

The Tribes of the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta request that Governor Mike Dunleavy and his administration will restore the status of Tribes in Alaska, and that Governor Dunleavy and his Administration will work with the Tribes through this process and any others that place our people, land and water at risk.

The full list of Tribes signed onto state permit appeals includes: Orutsararmiut Native Council, Native Village of Kwigillingok, Native Village of Eek, Kasigluk Traditional Council, Chuloonawick Native Village, Kongiganak Traditional Council, Native Village of Nightmute, Kongiganak Traditional Council, Native Village of Tununak, Chevak Traditional Council, Organized Village of Kwethluk.

Orutsararmiut Native Corporation is a Federally recognized governing body for the community of Bethel, Alaska.