Some Hidden Joys of My Work

by George Pletnikoff

September 18, 2013

George Pletnikof in AlaskaPebble mine update: On Monday, mining company Anglo American withdrew plans to develop Pebble Mine, the vast open-pit gold and copper mine in Alaskas Bristol Bay. The company was part of a 50-50 partnership with Northern Dynasty. Northern Dynasty claims the project will continue.

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Last month, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Gina McCarthy and her staff traveled to the Tribal Community of Dillingham, Alaska, ground zero for the proposed Pebble Mine in Western Alaska.

Pebble Mine is a planned gold and copper mine right on the shores of Bristol Bay, both the largest spawning grounds and largest watershed of wild sockeye (red) salmon stocks in the world. It is also the site of the proposed development of the largest open pit mine in North America. A perfect storm of two different worlds, with the ancient Yupik, Aleut and Athabascan cultures caught in the middle.

With my work as the Alaska Oceans Campaigner working to protect the Bering Sea Canyons, I had already planned to travel to Dillingham to meet with the regional association, a non-profit organization which works with 56 Tribal Communities throughout Bristol Bay, The Bristol Bay Native Association. I wanted to brief them on the progress Greenpeace is making on the issue of protecting Pribilof and Zhemchug Canyons, two of the largest underwater canyons in the Bering Sea and indeed in the world from dangerous and destructive large scale commercial fishing practices, in the form of bottom trawling and pelagic fishing for pollock.

Upon my arrival, I was immediately taken to a caucus meeting of several Tribal Council representatives gathering to discuss our plans to meet with Ms. McCarthy the next day at the High School auditorium. We discussed our concerns, who would provide testimony and concentrated on our messages we wanted to put to the Administrator.

We have been working tirelessly to protect our environment and watershed from development of this open pit mine for over two decades, said several of the Tribal representatives, and need to let her know that if this mine is to be developed it will destroy our wild salmon stocks and our ways of life.

Others emphasized the need for the EPA to make a final ruling on their two year study on the Clean Water Act impacting the watershed. The salmon has sustained our people for thousands of years! Why would we want fifty years of jobs when we can have jobs forever by protecting our fish?

Salmon run

The next day we met with the Administrator. The high school gym was filled to capacity with people gathered from all over the region, some traveling as many as 200 or more miles to attend. One after another, for two hours, each person stepped up to the microphone, speaking strongly for three minutes on why the mine would destroy, not only the pristine environment of Bristol Bay, the watershed or the Bering Sea, but essentially our planet. The future of our children and grandchildren are being placed in jeopardy, with poison from the mine leeching out into the rivers and streams where the salmon come to spawn every year. This, not to mention the seventy foot high walls that would need to be built to contain the waste water and materials dug up from the ground. It was an impressive sight to behold. People speaking from the heart to protect their lands and waters. Young and old alike all talking about the lessons learned from their ancestors to take care of our environment.

In her closing remarks as she was preparing to leave for another village in the region, Ms. McCarthy thanked the people for their remarks commenting on the generosity of the people and their sincerity and promised that I hope to do what will make you proud of me.

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