New Pebble advisory board member joins to 'protect the nest'
Next month, the Pebble Partnership plans to file for permits to build a gold and copper mine in the Bristol Bay region. The company says it’s a much smaller one than originally planned, one they think should be more acceptable to the communities in the area.
In May, the company formed an Advisory Committee to get feedback on a variety of issues. One of its founding members was one of its loudest critics. However, Kimberly Williams resigned after just a few weeks, after she says she lost her job at Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of village corporations and tribal councils, and under pressure from the Bristol Bay Native Association, where she is a board member.
Her replacement is AlexAnna Salmon from Igiugig, a small community just 50 miles from the proposed mine. Igiugig sits at the mouth of Lake Iliamna and the Kvichak River, a very isolated place. AlexAnna considers it her job to protect that “unglu,” or nest in Yup’ik. That’s why she says it was important for her to join the Advisory Committee, especially after she found out there was only one other person on the board from the Bristol Bay area.
“Immediately my first thought was we really need locals at the table for this project,” Salmon says.
Salmon says she’s simply there to learn, and claims the company doesn’t care what she thinks.
“Their science is shaped in a way that they will prove that development and salmon can co-exist,” Salmon says.
It’s important for her to be on the committee so her community knows what’s going on with the proposed project. Salmon says being at the table doesn’t mean that she’s for or against mining, rather, it signifies she wants to know what’s happening in her backyard.
In fact, Salmon goes out of her way not to take a side. That’s because she’s president of Igiugig’s Tribal Council, a position that she believes should be neutral.
“There are people in the region who struggle to put food on the table every day, so for those people, I really don't like to take a position, but what I feel for our village is that we don't need mining,” she said.
Salmon says when she agreed to serve on the Advisory Board, she didn’t have to sign a confidentiality disclosure, and the Pebble Partnership didn’t ask where she stood on the mine. Salmon says that during meetings, her questions are recorded, and answered later so she can take that information back to her community.
This week, the community of Pedro Bay became the fifteenth community to join the United Tribes of Bristol Bay against Pebble Mine. Igiugig, however, is not one of those communities. That’s because they are a consensus community. Salmon says Igiugig won’t take a side on the issue unless every single one of their stakeholders come to an agreement.
However, many, like AlexAnna’s sister, are torn.
“I have to have Christina Salmon personal life against pebble and I have to have Christina Salmon who manages a company that potentially works with them,” Christina said.
She says the company she manages contracted with the Pebble Partnership for work last summer. She’s also been employed by the Pebble Partnership, but quit and then actively worked against them with the United Tribes of Bristol Bay.
While Christina says she hates the idea that the mine could hurt her way of life, she also doesn’t want to turn her back on the opportunity it represents for others.
“It wouldn't be my ideal choice of work or something to get into but I'm also not going to tell anyone else they're wrong for doing so,” says Christina.
The Salmon Sisters are convinced that most people in Igiugig oppose the mine. While it’s a dividing topic, the community is together on one thing.
“We all respect each other's opinions and beliefs and don't label anyone for one issue they believe in,” says resident Karl Hill.
At the end of the day, the 65 people who live in Igiugig may or may not want to live with the proposed mine, but they do have to live with each other.