United Tribes of Bristol Bay Board Member MaryAnn Johnson is joined by Charlie Johnson (Portage Creek Village Council) and Wass Andrew (UTBB Board member from New Stuyahok) to read the Bristol Bay proclamation at the January 21, 2020, signing in Seattle, Washington. Photo courtesy United Tribes of Bristol Bay

Bristol Bay Tribes grateful for Tribal solidarity as our fight continues

United Tribes of Bristol Bay

Bristol Bay Tribes have been fighting the proposed Pebble mine for sixteen years. Throughout this time, we have been fortunate to find allies in many places—our Tribal neighbors in Alaska who stand with us at rallies and in meetings time and again; the sport and commercial fisherman who understand the threat the mine poses to small, family-owned businesses; and even pockets of industry, such as the world famous jeweler Tiffany & Company, who committed to boycotting any precious minerals mined at Pebble.

Our people have lived from the lands and waters of this region since time immemorial. The proposed mine would sit at the headwaters of some of our most productive fishing rivers, and threatens everything that sustains us. The current Pebble plan alone would destroy 105 miles of rivers and streams, and thousands of acres of wetlands – all of which connect Bristol Bay waters and nurture the fish our people rely on.

The mine’s infrastructure would include about 100 miles of new roads, much of which would traverse important sites for picking berries, and hunting moose, caribou and birds. There would be new ports built on top of our ancient fish camps and traditional hunting and fishing grounds. Toxic waste would be stored at our headwaters forever, and toxic byproducts would remain in our seismically-active region for the rest of time – contained only by new, untested technology that if history teaches us anything, will one day fail and devastate our pristine homeland.

The signed Bristol Bay Proclamation on display in Seattle, Washington, on January 21, 2020. Photo courtesy United Tribes of Bristol Bay

Each detail of this project threatens our sacred way of life, and the current plan doesn’t even consider the expansion to mine the full deposit, which Pebble is actively touting to its investors. This is why more than 80 percent of Bristol Bay’s residents oppose the proposed Pebble mine: it is a threat to our past, present and future as Native People.

Despite all this opposition, the federal governments is fast-tracking and supporting this project. It is clear that the government is more interested in bolstering one junior Canadian mining company’s profits than listening to the millions of Americans who understand the devastation this project could cause in Bristol Bay.

But over the past several months, we’ve been fortunate to watch the broad-base of Pebble opposition grow even more. We have long been grateful for support from within Alaska, including our historic agreement with the Southeast Indigenous Transboundary Commission in 2017 to stand together in opposition to the threats large-scale mines pose to each region’s communities.

Now we celebrate as our circle of tribal allies continues to grow. In 2019, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians updated their resolution from 2013 opposing Pebble and the National Congress of American Indians formalized their support for our cause with a resolution opposing the project and the current corrupt permitting process. And in early 2020, the Lummi Nation helped bring together representatives from those entities as well as the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Lummi Nation and Makah Tribe to sign the Bristol Bay Proclamation, further committing that we all stand together to protect our home – and the world’s last great wild sockeye run.

The Proclamation demands that the federal government honor its obligation to protect the lifeways of the Tribes of Bristol Bay; adhere to the first principles of government-to-government consultation including full, prior, and informed consent; and work with the Tribes of Bristol Bay to ensure the long-term, sustainable management of their lands and waters. These are the basic tenants of decency and respect our Native Nations should receive from America – but the government is shirking these responsibilities, and we are honored and thankful to stand together to demand our tribes be listened to for a better future for all.

The days we stand together with fellow tribes are a bright moment of hope for our region’s future. Our Tribal allies have made a clear call for the federal government to start showing respect for our sovereign nations in Bristol Bay and listen to our people. We are incredibly grateful for the continued support and solidarity, and want to extend our deepest thanks – “quyana” and “chin’an” in Bristol Bay’s Yup’ik and Dena’ina languages, and “hy’shqe” in the Lummi language – to all those stand together with us.

Raynell Morris of the Lummi Nation at the signing of the Bristol Bay Proclamation in Seattle, Washington, on January 21, 2020. Photo courtesy United Tribes of Bristol Bay

Especially now, in these uncertain times across the Nation, it is easy to think of our own families and communities first, but we are so grateful for all those who continue to care for their neighbors both near and far. Many Tribal communities across America face challenges and hardship. We understand that the federal government’s disregard and mistreatment of Tribal nations is not limited to Bristol Bay. And yet, across the country, we see a willingness to elevate our fight and work with us for a better future in Bristol Bay – and we are filled with deep gratitude.

We are still hopeful in Bristol Bay, because our people are resilient and strong and will not back down from this fight until our future is protected. And we are hopeful because we are fighting with wide-spread support and solidarity from Indian Country too. Together, we will protect the resources that sustain our cultures for future generations. From our children’s children, to yours, quyana and chin’an.

MaryAnn Johnson and Wass Andrew are United Tribes of Bristol Bay board members, writing on behalf of UTBB’s 15 member Tribes and the more than 80 percent of Bristol Bay’s population that these Tribes represent.

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