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My Turn: Why rush to judge the Pebble Mine?

Posted: May 31, 2013 - 12:08am

I read Robert Redford’s opinion piece in the Juneau Empire attacking the potential Pebble mine and it demonstrates his lack of understanding of both the issue and the reality our communities face.

I am an Alaska Native from the Bristol Bay Region and my ancestral village of Naknek is located 100 miles southwest of the Pebble deposit.

As a former elected leader and Bristol Bay fisherman, I’ve seen firsthand the dire situations families face in order to survive the long, cold winter months.

Our communities have proud cultural traditions — fishing and hunting among them.

But times have changed and so has our ability to maintain our communities.

Today, we buy fuel to heat our homes during our harsh winters, we own equipment that allows us to subsist in the vast lands, we purchase food in addition to the fish and wildlife we catch, and someday hope to send our children to college to become successful.

Couple this with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, as well as the highest cost of living, and you will understand why we are struggling to keep our schools open and populations from depleting.

As a fisherman, I depend on fish for my livelihood, but I also understand that commercial fishing no longer sustains us and is not the only answer to our challenges.

In one generation, locally owned fish permits have dropped 50 percent. Corporate fish processing plants bring in foreign workers on visas, and the luxury fishing lodges hire few Natives.

The lack of jobs and the dependence on government funds sends proud men into a spiral of alcohol and drug addiction — and sadly abuse.

This is our reality: High unemployment, high cost of living, villages vanishing and a loss of pride.

The Pebble mine is one of the largest mineral deposits ever discovered. It sits on state land set aside for mining. It’s in our backyard. And it could save our communities.

Until there is a plan, and until we know the facts developed though the permitting process, we are unwilling to rush to judgment and say Pebble is good or bad, right or wrong.

If we won’t rush to judgment than how can Robert Redford and the EPA.

• Abe Williams of King Salmon is president of Nuna Resources, an Alaska organization that supports responsible resource development and a sustainable economy within the Bristol Bay region.

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