There haven’t been any public protests against the proposed Donlin Gold mine in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta since last summer. But one tribe broke the silence with a resolution opposing the mine this month.
Quinhagak’s Native Tribal Council members all agree that the Donlin Gold mine should not exist. The council’s president, Darren Cleveland, worries that the mine will compel more people to leave Quinhagak.
"We feel that if it becomes real, that instead of slow trickle of people moving out, all of a sudden a group of people just moving and it would be a culture shock for families," said Cleveland.
Cleveland said that the younger men might leave, and it would be on the women and elders to hunt and fish for their families. He also said that entire families might leave.
Quinhagak is hundreds of miles away from the mine site, which sits near a tributary of the Kuskokwim River. The village is closer to the mouth of the river near Kuskokwim Bay. Another concern is that a mining accident could contaminate the village’s main food source, even though it would be almost 200 miles away. Quinhagak doesn’t want that. Village residents depend on the river’s rich array of salmon species for food.
"That could be devastating for our way of life that has always been, and we don’t want to add on risks that are already being done," Cleveland said.
Cleveland says that the heat wave that killed salmon in the Kuskokwim is an example of risks that they are already facing. There is also the fact that Quinhagak doesn’t want any mining near its village. The resolution is supposed to show support for tribes closer to the mine that have passed resolutions against it.
"If there was mining here in our area, we’d want the support of other tribes to help us out to be against it," said Cleveland.
Quinhagak joins 12 other tribes that have passed resolutions opposing Donlin Gold in the past year: Tuluksak, Napakiak, Kongiginak, Kwigillingok, Nunapitchuk, Tununak, Chuloonawick, Emmonak, Eek, Chevak, Kasigluk, and Chefornak.
Donlin Gold did not respond to a request for comment by broadcast time, but the company has said repeatedly that it plans to build the mine as safely as possible.