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In New Film, Alaskan Natives Speak Out Against Gold Mine

Alaskan fishermen in Bristol Bay

A new documentary film provides a chance for native Alaskans to explain, in their own words, the importance of salmon fishing in their culture – and why the opening of a new gold and copper mine would threaten their way of life.


The film, titled “We Can’t Eat Gold,” deals with the proposed Pebble Mine, which would be located in the Bristol Bay watershed about 250 miles southwest of Anchorage. The mining companies trying to open the Pebble Mine want access to one of the most valuable deposits of gold, copper, and molybdenum in the world. However, Bristol Bay is also home to the world’s largest, most spectacular sockeye salmon fishery.


Residents justifiably fear that the mine will pollute the water and disrupt habitat for salmon and other wildlife. The mine would require the construction of a dam to hold an estimated 10 billion tons of toxic mine waste in perpetuity. If the dam ever failed or spilled, it could devastate the salmon fishery. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a draft study showing that the mine could be catastrophic for the local environment.


The new documentary, which premiered on April 6 at the Finger Lakes International Film Festival in Ithaca, New York, makes clear that what’s at stake is not just the environment, but the culture and way of life of native Alaskans. For more than a thousand years, native Alaskans have depended on salmon as a food source. Today, salmon continue to provide food and jobs. The commercial salmon fishery generates $500 million per year and employs 14,000 full and part-time workers.


The film trailer (see below) shows fishermen at work, children and adults preparing salmon, and native Alaskans talking about what salmon mean to them. “Taking our salmon away would be like what happened to the lower 48 Indians when they took the buffalo away,” says Tom Tilden, First Chief of the Curyung Tribal Council, in the trailer.


A poll in 2009 showed that about 80 percent of local residents oppose the mine. Despite this overwhelming opposition, the mining companies have not backed down. Why not? One reason is that the companies have support from state officials, who think that the mine would provide a net benefit to the Alaskan economy. The mine promises to create 1,000 permanent jobs, which is significant but much lower than the jobs that depend on the salmon fishery.


The best way to stop the mine would be for the EPA to determine that the mine would violate the Clean Water Act. But this decision is really a question about values – about whether we as a society decide that the Bristol Bay watershed and the way of life tied to it are worth preserving. As the EPA and President Obama decide what to do, it’s essential that local community voices be heard and understood. This new film could be very helpful in that regard.


The local community needs others to voice their opposition too. The community is getting some high-profile help from celebrities like Robert Redford. We think that the jewelry industry also has a special obligation to speak out, since much of the gold from the Pebble Mine would be used to make jewelry. At Brilliant Earth, we’re dedicated to stopping dirty gold mining – we use only recycled gold in our jewelry – and so we have been expressing our opposition for several years. If you would like to add your voice to those opposing the mine, a great way to do so is to sign this petition by the Natural Resources Defense Council.


The film trailer is below, but to see the full documentary keep an eye on the film’s web site for information about future screenings. (In the meantime, we recommend this excellent ABC Frontline documentary on the Pebble Mine issue). The “We Can’t Eat Gold” filmmakers are also trying to raise $4,000 to help them return to Bristol Bay to show the film. To support this effort, you can donate here. If you give a $50 donation, they promise to send you delicious smoked salmon strips directly from Bristol Bay!


Here’s the film trailer:


April 30th, 2013 at 8:32 am


Cindy Says:
April 30th, 2013 at 8:53 am

It makes me sick to watch shows like Gold Rush watching the land get torn up. Its about time for the native Alaskans to say no to these ventures. Having a toxic pool near any water is just a ticking time bomb.

Ronn Flowers Says:
April 30th, 2013 at 9:32 am

The Pebble Mine is simply “progress” that will improve Alaskan’s current future and the future of your childern. The American Indians had to “move over” and make room for the greater good of “America”…

Bob Willoughby Says:
May 1st, 2013 at 7:20 am

Permitting this mine to move forward will have long lasting, devastating consequences for the Alaskan environment for years to come. It has taken decades and many millions of dollars to bring our Eagle River (Colorado) back to life…..and we still have a long way to go. All the result of irresponsible mine operations
No industry should have the right to ruin the environment for generations to come, for short term economic gain.

Clyde Says:
May 1st, 2013 at 7:41 am

So I take it that environmental degradation that happened in the past is acceptable and only new mining is bad? If you were as ethical as you rationalize yourself to be, you would use only renewable body ornaments, like seashells and bones — what the aborigines used before being corrupted by Western Man.

John Says:
May 2nd, 2013 at 3:14 am

I’m against the mine. This is not progress, potentially destroying the environment for the gain of a few. When will people learn and wake up from past environmental blunders. Slowly, people are destroying our beautiful plant in the name of greed and money. Everybody thinks about now but don’t consider the consequences of their actions in the future. We have a responsiblity to maintain and protect our natural treasures of the earth. We laso have a responsibility to help the Native peoples of Alaska. Remember, don’t forget we took their land and decimated their populations.

sharon hamrick Says:
May 2nd, 2013 at 3:45 am

ronn flowers your a idiot, i guess you never have been to alaska, i supppose you would like to have condos built there also. alaska is gods country and you shouldnt destroy it!

Len Says:
May 2nd, 2013 at 7:04 am

Our living natural resources are so much more important than mineral deposits that threaten distinction it is beyond question. Unlike the salmon, those minerals will always be there to mine anytime. It is just another sign of man’s financial greed showing its ugly self. Why anyone would agree someone’s financial gain is more important than a country’s natural way of life is rediculous. The mining industry would by far gsin more than Alaska and Alaska would be losing another natural way of life. We have seen what it does to a nation and it isn;t pretty.

Spudfed Says:
May 2nd, 2013 at 9:34 am

Mr. Flowers:
Instead of moving the Native AMERICANS over why don’t we just bring smallpox back into exsistence and wipe them out like we failed to do in the 19th century. You being a gold digger at the expence of the greatest salmon fisheries in the world are such a humanitarian to the native peoples of Alaska that your compasion knowes no bounds. Long live death and destruction in the Alaska Peninsula.

Frederick Martin Says:
May 3rd, 2013 at 8:20 am

Sorry to say, we know the answer……….it’s all about money………….and who gets paid under the table. We can bet, it won’t be the Native Alaskans………..

Testicules Says:
May 3rd, 2013 at 9:19 am

Pretty one sided.

What if it can be done without harming the fish?

PC Says:
May 4th, 2013 at 1:53 am

Why do we want to destroy the world so fast.That gold would be better buried in the mountains than kept in a vault.Enogh said,that gold belongs to future generations of U.S.citizens of america.Not to people looking for a quick million.The future is looking dim for the rest 50 years from now.I guess the future is now,screw the rest over.Yeah right!!!

Rik Says:
May 4th, 2013 at 1:43 pm

I’ve watched the insanity of the program ‘Gold Rush’ and seen the mass destruction of hundreds of acres of land. 100 year old trees are just plowed down with no attempt to even harvest them while in the lower 48, sunken trees in lakes, lost for decades, are being salvaged and selling for tens of thousands of dollars.

Scattered throughout the US we have abandoned mines, many of which have left the land toxic and unusable for generations to come. Cyanide, I believe, a deadly poison has been used periodically to extract gold and when the gold is gone, the poison remains.

Mountains have been leveled to extract coal. An entire lake vanished when oil drilling and salt mining accidentally bumped into each other.

I think this decision should be left up to the people who live around the desired land and have so for generations. Not the politicians, who usually cave into the desires of Big Business.

Mike G Says:
May 5th, 2013 at 5:09 am

It seems that like with Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in parts of Appalachia, and the spread of fracking to get at deep oil and natural gas deposits—with all of those things threatening natural resources vital for life—namely WATER—those who profit from such things along with this proposed mine—don’t care much about the ability for this planet to continue to sustain human and non-human life—–just as long as they make their big money they don’t really care that doing things like this is equal to committing suicide–not all at once—but on a long, slow, drawn out basis.

Ray Says:
May 5th, 2013 at 7:57 am

The oil companies had to find safer and more environment friendly was to drill. Nothing is stopping the gold industries to do the same. If they want gold than find a way to do it without disrupting a peoples way of life and food source. The people should cone first and foremost. The only thing that works in Washington is money so your supporters will need a lot of it to handle the government boys.

Steve Marling Says:
May 5th, 2013 at 9:40 am

How about another answer: Clean the water before putting it back into the environment as well as clean any other areas affected by the mining.

The Shadow Says:
May 7th, 2013 at 3:42 am

Regardless of all assurances which are offered by any mining company that sufficient precautions will be taken to protect the environment.

It is a proven fact, that there is no way for any human to actually guarantee that an environmental disaster will not be the end result of mining operations.

We are the resident caretakers of our planet. Inasmuch, we have a responsibility to maintain the earth for future generations. Ergo, it’s damn time we started taking our responsibility as being the serious assignment which it is.

Barbara Says:
May 7th, 2013 at 6:47 am

The real issue here is millions, if not billions, of gallons of by-product liquid that is the equivilant of battery acid stored in man-made lakes should this mine be allowed to happen. This liquid CANNOT be rendered neutral-ever! Does anyone really believe they can safely store this toxic liquid in man-made lakes in a serious earthquake zone? When containment fails, and it will, hundreds of miles of rivers and lakes will be destroyed and the destruction will run right into the ocean. This project is greed inspired insanity.

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