The mine tours take local people to open pit mines in the lower 48. This gives them a chance to see mines in operation and meet with other native people that are affected by them. Since Pebble Mine would be the largest open pit mine in North America it is a good idea for the people of Bristol Bay to see first hand what could potentially be in their backyard.
Why Ruin a Good Thing?
By Tanya Salmon
70.71% of the earth’s surface is covered in water. Out of that, only .007% is readily accessible for direct human use. The current world population is estimated to be approximately 7 billon people. Out of that 884 million of these people lack access to safe water (approximately 1 in every 8 people). Because of that 3.575 million people die from water-related diseases every year. In the developing world 24,000 children under the age of 5 die every day from preventable causes like diarrhea contracted from unclean water. That means that every 20 seconds a child dies because of contaminated water. The United Nations estimates that by 2025, 48 nations will face freshwater scarcity. After hearing these numbers it is amazing to know that people are still pushing for Pebble Mine to be located at two freshwater rivers & the largest salmon run in the world.
I believe that the Kvichak River water is some of the best water on earth. Twice we have submitted water samples & twice, we received the same response “what did you do to tamper with the water?” Honestly, we did nothing. Our water is THAT fresh, clean, & unpolluted. I am proud of our crystal clear lake & river. Tourists come through every summer & are amazed at the clarity & purity of our water. I would hate to see it contaminated.
On May 10-15th I was invited to go on a mine tour with Nunamta Aulukestai (Caretakers of the Land) to learn about the negative effects of mining. Although I visited the same mines last May through Pebble Limited Partnership, I was excited for the opportunity to check out the opposing side. I traveled with 6 other Bristol Bay residents: Sally Gumlickpuk from Dillingham (originally from New Stuyahok), Victor Seybert from Pilot Point, Tara Balluta from Nondalton, Lydia Olympic originally from Igiugig, & Tina Mann & Matrona Wassillie from Kokhanok.
While in Utah & Nevada, we were able to visit mines, such as Bingham Mine, which is currently the largest producing copper mine in the world. You hear stories of it being 2 ¾ miles across at the top & ¾ miles deep, but it is hard to register how BIG that hole in the ground really is until you actually see it! I can’t imagine a mine even bigger than that one in my front yard, and sadly, upstream from me.
Not only were we given the opportunity to visit mines, we were also able to meet with some of the local Natives in Elko, Nevada. We listened as they talked about the negative experiences the mine has brought: contaminated water (some cases are so bad that the town has to have all of their drinking water imported), drugs, ruined ancestral grounds & spirited areas, influx of workers who don’t care, & their battles for their rights. It was sad to hear how mining operations hire outside people who have no ties to the area & their “I don’t care” attitude. They don’t care if the company is using unsafe mining methods, whether they leave their trash, etc. because it is not their home. I was able to experience this first hand as I was talking to several mine employees. At one point, one of the men in the group claimed “who cares if we are polluting it here. This ain’t our home,” he said this as he tossed his trash on the ground, not far from a garbage can. That is the kind of mentality that scares me.
After Elko we drove to Yerington to visit an abandoned mine located smack-dab in the middle of town. Farmers grow their vegetables a few miles down hill from the mine, most likely with traces of contaminated water (the town has high uranium & cyanide levels in their water). Houses surround at least 3 sides of the mine & I was sad to see residential homes (with children) less than 100 feet away from the mine that was barricaded by a flimsy fence with barbed wire at the top, bearing signs that read “Danger! Unsafe Mine. Stay out. Stay Alive.” The open pit mine has long since filled with contaminated water. Locals stated that a flock of geese flew to the pond & landed…never to fly again. The mine made millions if not billions of dollars & high tailed it out leaving the State of Nevada to deal with the high cost of keeping the contaminated materials under control. Could that happen here?
In conclusion, I am not against mining. I am, however, against mining in the Bristol Bay region. If mining companies manage to contaminate water in the desert, how do they expect to have safe mining techniques in our water shed? Already the world is going through a water shortage. Right now, our clean water is our most valuable resource. While in Yerington, I read the headlines to the Mason Valley News. One that got my immediate attention (which was also on the front page) read “Five willing seller water deals closed at $22 million” (Volume 94, No. 21. Friday May 13th). Why ruin a good thing?