WHO WE ARE
Nunamta Aulukestai, Caretakers of Our Land, is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit that includes ten tribal corporations (land owning entities) and ten tribal governments (non land owning, but have government to government relationships for the purpose of communicating native priorities to the US government), all opposed to the development of the Pebble Project. Nunamta was established to identify areas of mutual interest pertaining to the use of corporate lands in Bristol Bay, and to establish a framework for collaboration in the management and protection of such lands and natural resources. The activities of the corporation are undertaken to promote cooperation among the land owners, regulatory agencies and resource users of corporate lands; conserve land, water, and natural resources; and to maximize the benefits from the wise use of our lands to the shareholders, their descendents, their communities and culture.
The land management in Alaska is very complex and there are many layers of land ownership. In 1906, the Alaska Native Allotment Act was put into place, which entitled literate Alaska Natives to claim up to 160 acres of land, use it for 5 years and in turn gain title to it. By 1971, it was abolished by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), which was put into place, giving land ownership to Village and Regional Corporations. Village corporations own the surface rights to the land and Regional corporations own the subsurface, with the stipulation that anything found of value in the subsurface and sold for profit be shared among all of the ANCSA Regional Corporations. Also tied into the Alaska land management web are the State and Federal Lands, related to the other layers through "recreational use" that allows Alaskans to continue practicing subsistence on state and federally owned land.
Although the Pebble deposit is located on state land, it has the potential to harm the quality and value of all land and water found downstream of development. These are the stakeholders that Nunamta represents and aims to protect the rights of. Prioritizing the development of Pebble, because of the harm it will cause to the environment, over subsistence use goes against traditional values; where the health of the people and environment come first with the belief in leaving the earth intact with water and food ensures the return of future generations.
Nunamta Aulukestai, Caretakers of Our Land, originally started as an outgrowth of the Nushagak-Mulchanta Watershed Council with a mission to promote collaborative land use planning and management methods invented among the members of Nunamta. Because of the traditional background of landowners, much of the management prioritized the use of land to allow hunting and fishing. Key management ideals also included finding ways to generate revenue with sustainable business practices that could benefit shareholders. An example was Choggiung Limited's, Nushagak River Land Use Program, which brought revenue to the shareholders through commercial and camping land use permits.
When Pebble Mine came into the picture, and it was realized that the project was not a mom and pop mining operation, but potentially the largest open pit gold and copper mine of it's kind in the world, it became evident that the mining plans did not fit with the criteria for the Nunamta members. It was then decided that a branch of organization would need to be formed that dedicated efforts specifically to protect the common interests of the Bristol Bay tribes and corporations, in which there was a balance between development and the protection of subsistence.
Nunamta Aulukestai was incorporated by 2007 as an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit, with the mission to “…protect our land, water and air that will sustain our way of life for all generations” and has since focused efforts to educate the local people and public about the Pebble Project and the harmful effects it would have on the subsistence, commercial and sport fishing economy in Bristol Bay.
Nunamta has also been paramount in collecting cultural information about hunting, fishing, and spiritual beliefs of the native people to submit as scientific data for baseline studies used in such studies as the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment that was conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency. Their data has also been used in litigation against the State of Alaska, including the Bristol Bay Area Plan lawsuit.
Nunamta now includes ten tribal corporations and ten tribal village governments who are the stakeholders. Peoples of Bristol Bay are predominantly of Yup'ik, Alutiiq and Dena'ina Athabaskan lineage, all who have depended on and prioritized a subsistence way of life for 10,000 years. This traditional value holds strong in the evolution of the native culture. Although the corporate ideal is to maximize profits, the traditional way of life values subsistence as something that makes one rich, and development projects must be compatible with the way of life in the region.
Why Pebble is a Threat
Pebble Mine would be located at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay Watershed spanning approximately 20 square miles. Bristol Bay is home to the largest wild salmon run in the world and is the last of it's kind. This mine would be one of the largest open pit mines in the world that would house a series of earthen dams responsible for storing billions of tons of toxic mining waste in perpetuity. If an accident were to occur this kind of waste is known to sterilize rivers and cause serious health effects for animals and humans who consume the food and water affected by the pollutants if any leaks in the dams were to occur. People of Bristol Bay rely significantly on wild food that is hunted and gathered through subsistence that would be put in jeopardy. Subsistence has been the means of survival in the region for thousands of years. In order to continue a lifestyle that relies on subsistence, the water and habitat that maintains the "inventory" must be kept clean to ensure food that is safe for human and animal consumption.
Subsistence goes far beyond the act of feeding oneself and is composed heavily with spirituality and religion. This mentality has been passed down through the oral traditions. The native people in Bristol Bay believe that respecting the land and animals ensures food for future generations and by going against this value, the future of the people will come to an end. Since the rise of the Pebble controversy, residents have been heavily educated on the impacts of mining and know that there has not been a mine of this kind and of this size that has not significantly impacted the quality of fish, wildlife and habitat. This fact alone goes against the religious view for ensuring the future generations the right to food and water and has resulted in heavy opposition with local people (over 80%) against the project.
10 Universal Alaska Native Values
Luki Akelkok Sr.,
Ekwok Natives Limited
Aleknagik Natives Limited
New Stuyahok Limited,
Manakotak Natives Limited
Togiak Natives Limited
Koliganek Natives Limited
Twin Hills Native Corporation
Twin Hills Tribal Council
Clarks Point Village Council
Aleknagik Traditional Council
Curyung Tribal Council
New Stuyahok Traditional Council
Manakotak Village Council
Levelock Village Council