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This story is a part of the series, Alaska Water Wars about the proposed Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska. You can find longer versions of the entire series, photos and additional information by going here. Below is audio for the series that aired on National Native News.
Financial support for reporting on the series was provided by the Alaska Humanities Forum and KNBA public radio.
By Daysha Eaton
Communities near the fishing industry of Bristol Bay are larger and often have more seasonal and year-round work opportunities than those inland, near the proposed Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska. Some residents, despite concerns about possible impacts to water quality, are eager to take jobs on related infrastructure projects that would be the mine’s foundation. In the village of Kokhanok, a “man camp” was built this summer to house people working to develop the mine.
“It’s hard work but hey it’s a job,” said Clint Hobson as he plugged exploration drill holes, which are leaking water at the Pebble Mine site. The surrounding area is rolling tundra, streams and lakes as far as the eye can see.
Hobson is Athabaskan and lives about 50 miles across Lake Iliamna from the mine site in the tiny village of Kokhanok.
“I got bills to pay,” said Hobson.
Jobs are scarce in the area and Hobson is happy to have the work. He makes $19.75 per hour on the seasonal job. Outside Kokhanok, Brad Angasan, works for the Alaska Peninsula Corporation and describes the project.
“This is the Kokhanok man camp, said Angasan. “There’s approximately about 12-15 tents here.”
Angasan is Sugpiaq and Alutiiq. His mother’s family is from Kokhanok, a community of about 170 Yup’ik, Sugpiaq, and Athabaskan people. The unemployment rate fluctuates from a low of around nine percent in summer to a high of 16 percent in mid-winter.
If residents don’t want to work directly for the mining company, many are desperate for jobs to help them stay in their villages. The village corporation that Angasan works for represents Kokhanok and four other villages. Some of those villages are on the verge of disappearing.
“Alaska Peninsula Corporation has villages that are, what I consider, nearing the brink of abandonment,” said Angasan.
The camp employed 15 residents this summer. Twenty-seven-year-old Nicholas Mike, who is Yup’ik, took one of the jobs.
“It means a lot. I get to stay home close to family and I don’t have to deal with traffic in Anchorage (laughs),” said Mike.
Others in the region fiercely oppose the project citing environmental concerns and possible impacts to their subsistence way of life. Angasan does think developing the mine is a risk to the area’s pristine waters, but he hopes it can be done safely, and dramatically change the economic outlook for the region.
Dec. 4, 2017: Alaska Water Wars series examines resource development and Native communities
Dec. 5, 2017: As the Pebble Mine proposal picks up momentum in Southwest Alaska, Native Tribes keep up pressure against it
Dec. 6, 2017: Native people divided on development of Pebble Mine
Dec. 7, 2017: Some Alaska residents eager to take Pebble Mine jobs
Dec. 11, 2017: Native salmon fishers are skeptical of mining company’s promises of smaller, more environmentally friendly mine.