Bethel, Alaska – Lower Kuskokwim tribes sent letters to the Trump Administration Bureau of Land Management (BLM) requesting government-to-government consultation over a sweeping proposed land use management plan that encompasses 62.3 million acres of land, including 13.4 million acres managed by the BLM, in the Bering Sea and Western Interior regions of Alaska. The letter stems from woefully inadequate consultation with tribes and local input. Some of the land being opened is adjacent to the Donlin Gold project. Residents are concerned about subsistence fishing — the largest subsistence harvest of Chinook salmon in Alaska is on the Kuskokwim River.
The BLM is aggressively opening wide swaths of Alaska federal land which have been closed for more than 50 years to mining and other projects that could damage the ecosystems upon which Kuskokwim tribes rely for physical and spiritual sustenance. Outgoing Assistant Interior Department Secretary Joe Balash, signed directives in recent months revoking decades-old federal public land orders and opening the first of tens of millions of acres of BLM lands — starting with the Bering Sea-Western Interior plan.
According to the BLM, the Bering Sea-Western Interior planning area includes all lands south of the Central Yukon watershed to the southern boundary of the Kuskokwim River watershed, and all lands west of Denali National Park and Preserve to the Bering Sea, an area the size of Colorado.
“Our voices and rights as Sovereign Tribal Governments have been consistently ignored regarding the governance of the places in which our people have practiced customary and traditional subsistence hunting and fishing since time immemorial. It is time for the BLM to live up to their obligation to respect the sovereignty of our Tribes” said Roy Atchak, 1st Chief of Chevak Traditional Council.
“The significant impacts of this plan have us worried, especially for our downstream communities,” added Mary Matthias, Natural Resources Director for ONC. “The Trump administration has failed to recognize that opening up the federal lands and waterways upon which our people have relied for generations to irresponsible development and mineral entry continues the blatant historical disrespect, disregard, and lack of inclusion practiced towards Alaskan Tribal Governments — governments in place long before colonialism.”
“There have been numerous failures by BLM in this process including failure to provide adequate notice to impacted tribes, failure to abide by a fair public hearing process allowing enough time for public comments, failure to respond to Tribes’ Cooperating Agency requests, failure to include Alaska Natives from the region on the planning team, and failing to adequately address numerous content issues in the plan, just to name a few,” stated Kendra Kloster, Executive Director for Native Peoples Action, “The impacts of this plan have the potential to deeply effect people of this region for generations to come. It is our organization’s mission to ensure Alaska Native voices are heard in all levels of policy and decision making, and we are supportive of the Tribes efforts to ensure the Trump Administration upholds its obligation to work with Tribal Governments.”
The Tribes of the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta who signed letters requested that the Trump Administration and Bureau of Land Management work with the Tribal Governments of the region in this process that places our people, land and water at risk.
The list of Tribes who submitted letters to BLM includes: Orutsararmiut Native Council, Chevak Traditional Council, Tununak Tribal Council, and Native Village of Eek.