On August 13, the Army Corps of Engineers issued their Record of Decision (ROD) on the Donlin Gold Mine, authorizing the project to move forward despite local concerns. In a press release, Mary Matthias, the Natural Resources Director for the Orutsaramiut Native Council in Bethel said, “Donlin would be the largest gold mine in the world. The social and environmental impacts could be devastating to our subsistence region and traditional Yup’ik way of life where we have less opportunity for cash income but lots of subsistence foods from the land to keep our communities and families healthy.” 

In July, Northern Center summer photography intern Rachel Ruston traveled to Bethel, and shares her reflections on what she learned about the threats Donlin poses to the health and wellbeing of those in the region. 

The threat of the massive proposed Donlin Gold mine does not go unnoticed in the region. The health of the river is at stake and the fish in the Kuskokwim are a major food source for Bethel residents, as well as for tribal villages further down the river.

Our tiny boat cruised along the Kuskokwim River with a pink and purple backdrop caused by a sun that refused to fully set. I’d spent a few full days alongside Lachlan Gillispie, the Northern Center’s Clean Water and Mining Coordinator, and Danielle Craven, a founding member of the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Alliance. The three of us packed tightly into about ten square feet along with Danielle’s two daughters, husband, and a family friend. Despite feeling cramped and windblown, I reveled in the slow dropping sun and the color saturated sky.

We  headed back inland after a night at the Craven family Fish Camp on the banks of the Kuskokwim. Each person had an active role that day, cleaning the 50 fish Danielle’s husband Josh caught. Hours were spent huddled around a wooden table beneath the shade of verdant trees with busy hands preparing filets. Danielle spoke of her childhood days spent at her family’s fish camp. The importance of that time resonated in her tone; nostalgic memories seemed to lie beneath her words. As she watched her daughters dance with the extending tide, Danielle shared how she uses this time to teach her children Yup’ik values and traditions. It was evident among all of the people I met in Bethel that the river is valued not only for the fish it provides but also for the role it serves in fostering community and family ties.

On our final day in Bethel, Danielle organized a No Donlin T-shirt making event right before the annual Calista Shareholders meeting at Bethel Regional High School. Danielle spoke to other concerned community members and gathered support for the No Donlin Gold movement.

Many depend on and love this river, and now they’re speaking out.

 

Northern Alaska Environmental Center

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