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Indigenous leaders virtually attend the Barrick Gold Shareholders Meeting

Katie Basile

Last week, Indigenous leaders from across Alaska virtually attended the Barrick Gold Annual General Meeting in Canada. The Toronto-based company is the world’s largest gold miner. Ahead of the assembly, nine tribes in the Kuskokwim region sent a letter calling on the mining giant to withdraw financial support for the proposed and permitted Donlin open pit gold mine.

Beverly Hoffman is a Calista shareholder and the co-founder of Mother Kuskokwim, an environmental conservation organization founded in opposition to the Donlin Gold mine. Hoffman used the assembly to voice opposition.

“There's too many risks with an open pit mine that size being developed on a salmon spawning river,” said Hoffman.

The tribes expressed concern about how the Donlin project, which is expected to have an active mine life of about 27 years, would impact the Kuskokwim River, which historically serves as a major food source.

“And you know, our salmon right now,” Hoffman said. “Population is already stressed from climate change, high seas fishery. Throw this in there and it's going to devastate the land, the air, the water.”

Protesters from around the world built on the “Global Week of Action,” a five-day campaign ahead of the meeting to call out what they label as a gap between Barrick’s rhetoric and record.

“I look at what they've done around the world and I am not comfortable with the way that they handle mines, open pit mines.” Hoffman said. “Just for gold. For gold that's gonna sit in bars or make some people richer. It will not make our people richer, they will suffer from this decision.”

Hoffman and Mother Kuskokwim’s director, Sophie Swope, attended the shareholders meeting virtually. Hoffman had a chance to ask Barrick directly to withdraw from Donlin Gold. Barrick CEO Mark Bristow said that his support from the Calista Regional Native Corporation showed that he was supported by Native communities.

“I never heard such rude and condescending remarks at that shareholders meeting,” Hoffman said.

Barrick concluded the meeting declaring strong shareholder support for the leadership. Proposed resolutions voting on the election of directors and the advisory resolution on executive compensation received strong majority votes.

Hoffman believes that Calista is too deep into the project to easily pull out.

“So it's up to the people, the people that actually live and depend on the river. Not just one tribe, but all tribes were affected by what's flowing down this river all the way out to the ocean,” Hoffman said.

Barrick’s website says that Donlin, in 2022, saw the largest drill program in over a decade and that the project has gained knowledge about the environment. This year, their work program focuses on a series of studies on infrastructure and processing and assessing mining scenarios. The company will also continue with permitting and regulatory engagement. It's estimated that the mine would produce approximately 1 million ounces of gold per year during its operation.

Sunni is a reporter and radio lover. Her favorite part of the job is sitting down and having a good conversation.