Donlin Gold Mine Jeopardizes a Way of Life in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta – Earthjustice

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“The Kuskokwim River is our table, and it feeds our people throughout the year. …
“If the Donlin mine goes through …”
“… and our river is contaminated …”
“ … the fish in it will be destroyed.” – George Alexie, President of the Native Village of Eek, a federally recognized Tribal government whose members reside downstream from where the Donlin mine would be located
Nov. 2, 2021
In the rich, wild expanse of southwest Alaska, mining company Donlin Gold is seeking to build the largest pure gold mine in the world — on a tributary of the vital Kuskokwim River.
The mine threatens the Kuskokwim River watershed and the entire Yukon‐Kuskokwim Delta, homeland of three distinct Alaska Native cultures — Yup’ik, Cup’ik, and Athabascan — comprising numerous Alaska Native Tribes.
Spanning an area slightly larger than the island of Manhattan, the vast open pit mine would be located along Crooked Creek, a salmon spawning stream that flows into the Kuskokwim.
Andreafsky Wilderness
Gold Mine Project Site
Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge
Bering Sea
Togiak Wilderness
Area of Detail
Kuskokwim Bay
Owned by Canada-based mining giants NovaGold and Barrick Gold, the Donlin mine would permanently destroy lands and waters that have nurtured Alaska Native ways of life for generations. This poses a grave threat to one of largest and most productive fisheries supporting sustenance and lifeways in the state of Alaska. (See environmental consequences of the mine.)
Faced with potentially disastrous consequences, more than a dozen Alaska Native Tribes in the region have adopted resolutions opposing the Donlin mine. Even more have come together to take legal action against the agencies that approved it.
The Kuskokwim provides a critical source of wild food and serves as a bedrock of identity and cultural values for Alaska Native Tribal citizens and community members living downstream from the mine site.
More than half the annual subsistence harvest for people in this region consists of salmon. The fish are caught, prepared by hand, and preserved to feed families throughout the year. There are five species of salmon in the Kuskokwim, and other kinds of fish — such as rainbow smelt, whitefish, and trout — are also plentiful.
The Donlin mine would permanently alter this way of life.
Mercury deposits into surface waters would increase to dangerous levels, likely making the waters toxic for fish and the fish unsafe for consumption. Exposure to mercury — an extremely toxic substance — is known to cause significant and irreversible health issues.
If built, the Donlin Gold mine would provide the infrastructure to enable other mining projects, potentially turning southwest Alaska into a massive mining district.
Alaska Native Tribes who live downstream from the proposed mine site are facing off against the existential threat the Donlin Gold mine poses.
– Beverly Hoffman, a Tribal citizen of Orutsararmiut Native Council and community activist
Represented by Earthjustice attorneys based in Anchorage and Juneau, a number of Yukon-Kuskokwim Tribes have waged a years-long battle to protect their river and force Donlin Gold and government agencies to follow the law.
Tribes that Earthjustice has represented include:
With a 25-square-mile footprint, an area larger than the size of Manhattan, the Donlin mine would be the largest pure gold mine in the world.
While some metals may be essential for developing technologies to power our climate solutions, gold isn’t one of them.
Thirty percent of the gold produced worldwide in 2020 was used for jewelry, another 21% or more for bars and coins, and 43% for exchange-traded funds or central banks. Just 6% was used for electronics.
At the end of the day, the vast majority of wealth generated by this mining operation will flow into the pockets of a small group of investors and distant urban communities, while the environmental consequences of this immense operation are staggering.
Earthjustice is representing numerous Yukon-Kuskokwim Tribes and the conservation group Cook Inletkeeper in legal challenges to key permits that have allowed the mine to advance, cases reflecting opposition from more than a dozen Alaska Native Tribes in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. 
Earthjustice’s Alaska Office has locations in Juneau and Anchorage. Alaska is home to irreplaceable diversity of peoples, wildlife, and ecosystems. It includes rich Alaska Native cultures dating back millennia, the only Arctic region in the U.S., and the Tongass National Forest. Since 1978, attorneys in our Alaska regional office have fought destructive oil and gas drilling, mining, and logging that threatens the region’s communities, lands, waters, and wildlife. Learn more.
Media Inquiries: Becca Bowe, rbowe@earthjustice.org, (415) 217-2093
Stay informed on how we hold accountable those who break our environmental laws.


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