The Walking Dead: Pebble Mine, Again

Pebble Mine, the proposed gigantic mine in the headwaters of North America’s greatest wild salmon fishery, has shambled back from mineral limbo and threatens the peoples, cultures and wild fish stocks of southwestern Alaska yet again.

WC doesn’t intend in this post to explain again what an apocalyptically bad idea Pebble Mine is. Instead, WC wants to focus on how important salmon are to the peoples of southwestern Alaska. Not just to the commercial fishermen, but to the Aleut/Athabascan peoples in the area.

Some years ago, WC had occasion to attend the dedication of the new wind-diesel turbines in the small village of Kokhanok, on the shores of Lake Iliamna. The dedication, done mostly by the school kids, was held in the gym/multipurpose room at the school. That school building predates the whole Pebble Mine controversy, by the way; it could use a refit, if the State of Alaska could afford it.

WC notices a wood bas relief framed on the otherwise stark gym wall.

Kohkanok School Gymnasium/Multipurpose Room

Kohkanok School Gymnasium/Multipurpose Room

WC doesn’t know whether it is a purely local effort or if it was created as a part of Alaska’s Percent for Art program. But the detail of the bas relief tells you everything you need to know about the importance of waters and fish to the people of Lake Iliamna.

Bas Relief Detail, Artist and Date Unknown

Bas Relief Detail, Artist and Date Unknown

Water pours from a ewer decorated with a spirit mask. The water transforms to the hair of the woman holding the ewer, who in turn is surrounded by salmon supported by the water. You can’t get much more explicit than that: the people, the water and the fish are one, inextricably tied together. WC has zero qualifications as an art critic, but thinks this piece is simply brilliant.

To the Native peoples of southwestern Alaska, a threat to the water is a threat to the fish and a threat to them, to who they are.

Pebble Mine threatens the waters of southwest Alaska. The cultural significance of that threat could not be clearer. Seen in that light, the proposed Pebble Mine is a kind of environmental racism, where environmentally dangerous or hazardous activities are inflicted on the poor, or racial minorities, who are unlikely to complain or can be ignored if they do. And the Trump Administration seems to be determined to make that happen.

All of which is one reason that WC so strongly opposes the proposed mine.


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