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No, Pebble Mine isn't my neighbor

Proposed project would benefit Outside interests to the detriment of Native people

Posted: Friday, July 14, 2006

Is the proposed Pebble Mine my neighbor? No, my neighbors are New Stuyahok, Ekwok, Portage Creek and other surrounding villages. I have a lot of respect for my neighbors my neighbors respect me. We respect each other's traditional and ancestral land-use rights. These lands are primarily used for subsistence by me and my neighbors. Isn't the proposed Pebble Mine on traditional and ancestral lands?

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When Northern Dynasty responds to public comment, it responds by saying that people are basing their decisions on information that is not accurate or not correct. We all can't have incorrect and inaccurate information.

Too many times I've seen Native Americans removed from their traditional and ancestral lands so others can develop the land. I've also seen lands developed near or on lands occupied by Native Americans. How do Native Americans benefit from the development of their traditional and ancestral lands? They don't. Isn't Northern Dynasty a Canadian company? If the proposed Pebble Mine was developed, who would receive the big dividends?

Developers promise to contribute to the local economy, public organizations, educational and health institutions, and they always promise big bucks. I believe they employ a few local residents and donate to a few local organizations and institutions. When the resources have dwindled to almost nothing, they leave.

Now Northern Dynasty is saying that we do not want development in our region. Who will benefit, who will profit the most from "development" in our region? In the case of the Pebble Mine, the beneficiaries would be the Canadians. So, of course, Northern Dynasty will continue to try and persuade people to support the mine and it will continue to try and persuade us that what it's doing is environmentally safe and our "renewable resources" will be protected.

What are residents left with after "development" such as open-pit mining? My concern is for the land, water, wildlife, plants and, most importantly, people.

When developers leave, there is a high rate of unemployment. In some communities, water is contaminated and people buy their water at the grocery store. People can no longer subsist off the land and water, because the land and water is polluted and the wildlife, fish and plants are no longer safe to eat. There are high rates of sickness, such as cancer. There is a high rate of death and a high rate of drug and alcohol abuse. What I am most afraid of is a high rate of suicide among the youth.

We will risk so much, so others (Canadians) can benefit.

So many Native Americans have given up their traditional and ancestral land-use rights or their rights have been taken from them. I cannot sit back and allow this to happen here.

I am a part of a federally recognized tribe, which has the right to self-determination. We have the right to self-government. We have the right to determine our own relations with other nations and other peoples. We have the right to preserve our culture, language and spirituality.

I believe that our tribal government is doing OK here in Koliganek. Our families and elders have worked hard to protect us and our way of life. They have also provided for our needs and taught us our culture.

We, as a Native people, have lived in harmony with the land, fish and wildlife. We are the traditional stewards and caretakers of this land. Our connection to the land, fish and wildlife is an important part of our identity as Yup'ik people. For us to remain on this land, we need subsistence.

Some people might not think that we, as Native people, are not advancing fast enough. I believe we are. People from Koliganek are doing very well. Some are teachers, administrators, fisherman, accountants, retail workers and more. There are some who serve or who have successfully completed service with the U.S. Armed Forces.

We are educating ourselves, we are working, and we are contributing to our economy, our state and our country. We are not a suffering and impoverished people as some people think of us as. We are thriving.

• Frances A. Nelson is a resident of Koliganek.



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