Mountain Village corporation wants vote on Donlin mine

Donlin runway and camp site in summer 2014.
The proposed Donlin Gold mine would be one of the biggest gold mines in the world if completed. (Photo by Dean Swope/KYUK)

A village corporation in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta wants Calista Corporation shareholders to vote on whether Calista should support the proposed Donlin Gold mine.

Calista owns the mineral rights to the mine, which would be built in the upper Kuskokwim River area. Azachorok is a village corporation in Mountain Village, on the Yukon River. Azachorok’s president, Loren Peterson, says its resolution isn’t a stance on the mine, but it would give shareholders a chance to decide if they want it.

Peterson describes the resolution as pragmatic.

“When it’s a controversial issue like this and you have a corporation that’s designed to develop and make money, we think there should be a pause in this situation and take a look at the mission and values of the corporation,” he said

The resolution is inspired partly by what happened at the Association of Village Council Presidents’ annual convention in September. There, delegates voted overwhelmingly to rescind a 2006 resolution supporting the mine.

Under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Native corporations are tasked with two goals: maintaining the traditional way of life and promoting economic development. Peterson says that sometimes those goals can conflict, like in the case of the proposed Donlin mine.

“It can bring a lot of capital to the corporation and we could see some economic development and jobs, but at the same time, the Donlin Creek development could impact subsistence resources and our subsistence,” he said.

The Azachorok resolution doesn’t take a stance on the Donlin mine. Peterson says that the corporation sees both sides. In fact, under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Azachorok would receive some of the mine’s profits. Peterson says that the resolution advocates for the shareholders who live closest to the mine to have a voice on whether it’s built.

“If it’s a bad development in the aftermath, the fault isn’t necessarily on the corporation, and they now have a more democratic approach to where the shareholders that own the shares of the corporation and live on the land and participate in hunting and fishing, they should have a say,” Peterson said.

More than 300 female Calista shareholders made a similar argument in a letter that they sent the corporation earlier this year. They expressed concerns over the mine’s possible impact to the Kuskokwim River, the region’s main food source.

KYUK reached out to Calista for comment on the resolution last week and has not received a response.

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