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By J P Tangen
Special to Mining News 

Environmental NGO slanders Alaskans

AMA President Mike Satre slams SEACC representatives for false and misleading statements

 

Last updated 10/31/2019 at 2:52pm



If anyone has not yet read Mike Satre’s excellent editorial in the October 2019 edition of the Alaska Miner magazine they should stop what they are doing right now and read what he has to say. Mike reports on a presentation that was made to a “Mining Symposium” on Prince of Wales Island on April 24, 2019, by Southeast Alaska Conservation Council representatives Heather Evoy and Sarah Davidson. The presentation was called "Social Impacts of Mining and Engaging with Mining Companies" and featured 24 Power Point slides. The slides can be found at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LZH2NPhJ2hKx5Ar0Xurbn0b-d-OSBtK_/view .

Mike’s editorial makes the point that the allegations contained in the presentation are not corroborated by any details or data; however, the mere lack of supportive evidence is not the greatest weakness of the presentation. It goes much further than that. It is almost as if the authors did their research by watching grade B, pre-ANILCA, westerns on TV.

Not once but twice, the authors recite that “[m]ining may lead to community division and breakdown, forced community displacement, loss of cultural identity, and disproportionate impacts on women.” The second time, this comment was in red to emphasize the point. It is not insignificant that on Prince of Wales Island the communities tend to be rural and small.

The following slide alleges that “[p]rospecting and exploration can cause social divisions, criminalization, and violence in a community.”

Although there may be exceptions, in my forty-five years of working with the Alaska mining community, I have never heard of a prospector being associated with any form of social division, criminal misconduct or violence. This assertion is simply a blatant lie if it is intended to refer to Alaska prospectors.

Slide 12 asserts that “[w]hen hundreds of single men are brought into a local community to work at a mine, even if living at a mine camp, it often gives rise to bars, brothels, alcoholism, prostitution, and an upsurge in sexually transmitted diseases.” (Emphasis added.)

Five of the six large mines in Alaska, the only projects that could be expected to employ hundreds of people, have been opened within the past 50 years. A significant percentage of the employees at these mines is women. Any brothels or prostitution in Kotzebue, Fairbanks, Healy, Juneau or Delta Junction, if they exist at all, are pretty close to invisible and certainly have only the most attenuated relation to the mines in those communities.

As for alcoholism and STD’s, although those issues are a problem in Alaska as much as is the case anywhere else in the country, the authors would be hard-pressed to identify any nexus between those conditions and the presence of a mine. Most mine workers in Alaska live at home with their families and are respectable, responsible members of the community.

As offensive as anything else said in the presentation is the notion that “[f]or Indigenous communities and others deeply connected to their land, a move [sic] can lead to the decline or death of their culture.” This ignores the fact that Alaska’s major mining projects go out of their way to accommodate cultural considerations, such as subsistence hunting and fishing. To imply that “indigenous communities” are somehow rendered vulnerable by the presence of a mine, is an insult to the hundreds of ANCSA shareholders who are successful and productive employees of those mines.

Likewise, any allegation that “fighting among family members, division between community members, alcoholism, contaminated drinking water, or loss of agricultural land or fishing rivers” results from mining operations is total nonsense.

Mining is perhaps the most regulated heavy industry in the United States, and such things as contaminated drinking water or negative impacts on agricultural land or river fishing are strictly regulated if not totally prohibited. Alcoholism and social divisions are not a result of mining. In fact, it is more likely that mining discourages these problems, because virtually every mine in the state prohibits the consumption of alcohol on site and families with steady incomes may generally be expected to promote stability.

It is ironic, if not malicious, for the presenters to assert on slide 14 that “[e]xtractive companies often work to change the concept of wealth – focusing only on money and material things, and underemphasizing spiritual, cultural, social, and environmental wealth in a community” because mining companies in general and Alaska’s mining companies in particular are notorious for supporting educational and public service function and activities, such as the very symposium that hosted this remarkably false SEACC presentation.

It is also simply not true, in Alaska at least, to say that “[e]xtractive industries can also destroy fishing, hunting, and gathering areas, as well as spiritual sites, eroding cultural identity.”

The diatribe concludes with several blatantly sexist observations.

According to the authors, “[w]hile it’s mostly men involved in mining operations, women are the most impacted [because] Men may leave home to work at mines, leaving women to support families, handle finances, manage land, and other responsibilities that were previously shared [; and this] may lead women to take up additional forms of work … resulting [in] stress on families [and] can lead to increased domestic violence, and couple separations.”

They conclude that “[m]en sometimes bring home sexually transmitted diseases, which are more common in extractive areas [and that rates] of missing and murdered women can also be higher in areas where there are extractive industries that have man camps, disconnected from the surrounding community.”

SEACC by these comments clearly reflects a lack of understanding of reality when it comes to mining in Alaska. As far as I can recall, there hasn’t been a murder of any women (or men) directly associated with the mining industry in Alaska in recent history. In addition, most of the major mines in the State don’t have permanent residential accommodations for employees.

Satre describes this vicious presentation as “outrageous,” but it is far worse than that – it is poisonous. Many of my acquaintances support SEACC in its responsible conservation objectives; however, no one I know would possibly justify this toxic and slanderous attack on the good people who work in Alaska’s mining industry.

As for the sponsors of the symposium, they owe many Alaskans, male and female, Native and non-Native, a large apology for tolerating the egregious insult SEACC has put on the public record.

 

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