Tribal Coalition applauds BLM’s decision to clean-up toxic mine waste in Kuskokwim River

by the Mother Kuskokwim Tribal Coalition

Tribal leaders seek to avoid similar damage from proposed Donlin Gold Mine.

Mother Kuskokwim Tribal Coalition celebrates the long overdue announcement by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to release a signed Record of Decision addressing how BLM will clean-up contamination at the abandoned Red Devil Mine Site.

Red Devil was a cinnabar and mercury mine at the mouth of Red Devil Creek on the Kuskokwim River. From 1933 to 1971, mining operations included extensive underground and surface mining, on-site processing and waste disposal. Piles of mine tailings, leaking underground fuel tanks, and processing chemicals were left on site leaking mercury, arsenic and other toxins into the groundwater and surrounding river system for more than 40 years. BLM assumed control of the site in 1987.

“For thousands of years, the Native people of this area survived on the health of our fish and waters,” said Sophie Swope, director of the Mother Kuskokwim Tribal Coalition. “Because of careless mining practices, we are now forced to wonder if the fish we are eating today is poisonous.”

For the first time in the history of fish and wildlife management in Alaska, officials issued guidelines restricting the consumption of fish in the middle Kuskokwim River area because of pollution from the Red Devil mine. The damage shows the devastating effects that mining can have on watersheds, even at this small scale. Tests show dangerously elevated levels of mercury in pike, lush, Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling and other subsistence fish, as well as in the snails, larvae and small fish they eat.

Mercury can cause brain damage in infants and young children. That means women who are or can become pregnant, mothers who are nursing babies, and children 12 and under are at risk. Depending on the type and size of the fish, women and children are limited to 12 to 16 portions of fresh fish and one to four portions of dried fish per month.”

“This decision by the BLM and the resulting data illustrates why it is so vital that history is not repeated with the development of another destructive and massively larger mine” Said Swope. “The Mother Kuskokwim Tribal Coalition is concerned that the Donlin Gold Mine will wreak even worse damage on the people of the Kuskokwim River Delta”.

Tribal leaders are asking the BLM to withdraw their authorization permit for the Donlin mine until a new EIS analysis can be conducted.

The Donlin Gold Mine is proposed in the headwaters of the Kuskokwim River and would disrupt a subsistence-based culture that has thrived in the region for thousands of years. Donlin is officially opposed by more than 14 individual tribal governments in the region as well as the Association of Village Council Presidents, which represents 56 Tribal governments in the region; the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation; and the National Congress of American Indians.

If constructed, Donlin’s corporate owners Barrick Gold Corporation and NOVAGOLD RESOURCES INC claim it would be one of the world’s largest open-pit gold mines. The project would dramatically change Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim region, threatening the health and well-being of residents, communities, and wildlife for generations.

According to a 2016 letter by the U.S. EPA, the mine would undeniably and permanently damage water, fish and game resources, and the subsistence lifestyle of the Yukon Kuskokwim River Delta.

“Our tribes of this region have been asking the Biden administration and Secretary Deb Haaland to revoke the unlawful Trump era approval of the Donlin Gold Mine,” said Bev Hoffman, a member of Orutsararmiut Tribal Council and co-founder of Mother Kuskokwim Tribal Coalition. “Our greatest fear is that past will become prologue and the legacy of unfettered mine contamination in our region will also become the fate of our future generations if Donlin Gold is developed as proposed.”

Tribes formally opposed to Donlin Gold Mine: Orutsararmiut Native Council, Native Village of Eek, Kasigluk Traditional Council, Native Village of Kwigillingok, Chuloonawick Native Village, Native Village of Kongiganak, Native Village of Tununak, Chevak Native Village, Native Village of Napakiak, Chefornak Traditional Council, Nightmute Traditional Council, Native Village of Nunapitchuk, Kwinhagak Tribal Council, Tuluksak Tribal Council, Organized Village of Kwethluk, Aniak Traditional Council as well as the Regional Tribal Consortium Alaska Village Council Presidents.

Example: 9075434113