by John Angaiak
“If you don’t leave your past in the past, it will destroy your future, not for what yesterday has taken away.” -Realistic Buddhism
I have been a supporter of Calista Corporation since its beginning, always have and always will. Calista is an ANCSA corporation. It exists to be a bright candle that can create lasting jobs, support education, modernization, security of land for food and native ways of living.
We had no ways of protecting our lands prior to the passage of ANCSA. We lived here, but we were nothing to the outside corporate interests. Before ANCSA, a land grab had already started in Alaska. Alaska villagers were not aware of it. Corporations from Outside were quietly taking over vast areas of the state.
The creation of Calista gave us back the opportunity to hunt and fish. We were able to stop the actions of Outsiders just in time. Without Calista, we would not be free to hunt and fish as we had done for centuries. They never asked us. We never mattered to them. This was to be the last of the land takeovers and shoving off of our sod houses into the sea. The takeover was stopped just in time. ANCSA was a wakeup call. Calista opened the chance of a future living for us, and gave our children land to live on. Calista has always practiced responsible development. How quickly some have forgotten the past and the beginning of Calista.
We must consider ourselves lucky for the passage of ANCSA. We can still roam the countryside just like the old times, go hunting at-will, and walk the salmonberry patches of our ancestors. This is precious to us as a people. We roamed the land for centuries. Could you still freely walk the tundra around your village without CALISTA? Credit goes to the men and women who fought for ANCSA for us. I stand with Calista.
Donlin Gold just might become our refuge tomorrow. It has been planned well environmentally, following every rule and regulation to be sure safety is always of primary concern. It has been a long, and thorough planning process while time was on our side. Extremely transparent, Donlin has involved many villages for input to start on the permitting process. Scientific facts and knowledge have been checked and rechecked. It sits on a safe high hill. This has shown us how the job should be done right.
Not everything is done by the word of mouth of politics, based on emotion and fear. There have to be workers who plan and set direction based on real facts. Politics out, the real work begins, and then the progress is made solidly, and not by jumping to instant conclusions.
While the Donlin development has been done right from the beginning following all the laws, regulations and environmentally sound practices, I am deeply concerned that we have not shown the same respect to the Kuskokwim River. It seems as though the Kuskokwim is not as important to those who scream about Donlin. We still use the river for limited commercial and subsistence purposes but for how long though?
It has been a life giving river since before the tribal wars. Our ignoring of the Kuskokwim in the recent past now has begun to haunt us by causing damage to its future, and more damage is to be done to where your eyes cannot see.
There is no one to blame except us. Some people still use it to make a living for cash. They even get to the nerve center of the spawning areas.
The previous leaders before Calista could have done something similar to the Kuskokwim River by initiating Environmental Impact Statements to protect it, like Donlin did. They could have given us guidance to start saving the Kuskokwim early on.
The Kuskokwim River is the lifeline of many villages. It is now slowly dying. The river does not provide salmon as much as it once did. There are lots of questions about how village trash dumps are impacting our environment, as well as toxins and chemicals that seep into the river. Bulk tanks are rusting on the banks of the river.
The Fukushima Nuclear Power leak into the sea does not seem to bother some who scream about Donlin, but eventually, its long arm may get to Kuskokwim River. We will then realize how Kuskokwim river is very fragile. The river is not forever.
Remember that Donlin has not even begun yet, and it is heavily controlled already by its impact statements and extensive plans that have been reviewed by Federal and State agencies.
Climate change will certainly figure in. It already has. Some areas of the river will sink. Our villages may sink along with it. All of a sudden, we may need Donlin as a refuge. When damage takes place, our grandchildren won’t be able to fix the Kuskokwim River alone and will need to take action while they still have a chance. We have ignored the Kuskokwim River for so long.
We can learn from the careful planning of Donlin. Maybe we have not awakened since the last tribal war. Most of our lack of working together comes from distrust among ourselves. Silence on Kuskokwim River letting it die slowly is deafening and we must find ways to work together to assure a secure future.
Calista wants to create job opportunities through Donlin, not one, but all kinds of different jobs. We are used to hearing just the use of a single word, “jobs”. However, it means many things to me.
It is true that when one has a job, they feel better about themselves, their family and people around them. They feel good about getting their kids to school. A job helps them to stay away from alcohol and drugs. They look forward to the future. The person feels responsible. Having a job gives them a fighting chance. They then think about sending their kids to college.
We can live with both subsistence and cash economy today. Just the same, we must realize that subsistence is also an expensive undertaking. There are no shortcuts. A few days of subsistence activity may cost thousands of dollars. Sometimes we do not bring anything home. But that’s alright. A steady job can offset the zero catch.
One simple truth is what Calista and Donlin and other subsidiaries are doing and all want to give helping hand.