Opinion: Tetlin Project Commentary

 OPINION: TETLIN GOLD PROJECT  (Editor's Note: Tetlin is on the Alcan Highway, east of Tok, and is the site of a new gold mine, Manh Cho...


(Editor's Note: Tetlin is on the Alcan Highway, east of Tok, and is the site of a new gold mine, Manh Choh. To most Alaskans and outsiders, "Tetlin" is best known for the nearby Tetlin Wildlife Refuge. Kinross, the Canadian owner of the mine, will be sending rocks in large "B-Train" trucks 250 miles up the Alcan, every 12 minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for 5 years. The trucks will also travel the Richardson & Steese Highways and through downtown Fairbanks to Fort Knox for milling into gold. Most of the controversy about this project surrounds highway safety and comes from the roadside communities along the route. This commentary was submitted to the Journal from Tetlin.) 

Tetlin (Photo, Tetlin Native Corporation) 

 What is Tetlin’s Council not telling us about the Tetlin Native Corporation? 

By Kevin Gunter

I am a Tetlin tribal member and have been following news on the Manh Choh mining project. Does the Tetlin Village Council know something about Tetlin Native Corporation (TNCorp) that they are not telling us? After reading the News Miner, Jack Barnwell’s story “Tetlin Village Council disputes corporation's land use claims” I was seriously confused. The article said “TNCorp’s release contains a number of inaccuracies, misstatements and unsubstantiated allegations…” the Tetlin Village Council stated. 

First, they don't say what those inaccuracies are. Next, I knew this was not true. I know that not all Council members believe or say this. It is also not true where the article said, “The Native Village of Tetlin is contesting claims by the Tetlin Native Corporation…”. 

The Chief does not speak for the whole Council or the tribe about all things. Adding to my confusion, Mr. Barnwell mixed two story lines. One is about the land transfer — to correct Mr. Barnwell, TNCorp shareholders DID vote on the land transfer, they just voted NO. The other story Barnwell mixed in is TNCorp contesting the KINROSS partners being on their land. 

For answers, I called and spoke directly with TNCorp’s General Manager, David Flenaugh who answered questions with no hesitation. 

I get it now… the Mineral Lease says the Council granted a KINROSS partner mining rights to 780,000 acres of tribal land. That claim included 100,000 acres of TNCorp land — without the Corporation's consent. First, they had 643,147 acres taken from them, and then they had the rest of their land taken from them. 

According to what the Tetlin Council and a bunch of court documents say, the Council owns 643,147 not 780,000 acres. How do KINROSS partners expect to get by claiming more land than the Council owns and not have TNCorp object? 

Court documents say in 1996 that 643,147 acres of Corporation land was wrongfully transferred to the Council by some crafty board directors that were also Council officers, leaving TNCorp only 100,000 acres … but that is another story between the Corporation and the Council. The story here, as I understand it, is TNCorp wants KINROSS partners off their land. 

The mining partners started with the 2008 Mineral Lease. But the Mineral Lease even has a copy of TNCorp's land patent showing Congress gave them 743,147.34 acres. So where did they come up with 780,000 acres? 

The Mineral Lease and some SEC publications also identify Tetlin’s Council a village corporation pursuant to the Alaska Native Settlement Claims Act (ANCSA). Maybe people from Texas, Colorado, or Canada may think this is true — but Alaskans know ANCSA never gave land to tribes or tribal governments. Plus, a tribal government can’t be an ANCSA Corporation. Then maybe, where the Mineral Lease says the surface and subsurface land held by Tetlin's Council is pursuant to ANCSA should also be questioned. 

David emailed me a copy of the miners' State Hardrock Exploration permits showing they misled the State into believing they were ANCSA landowners so they could explore and mine TNCorp’s land. TNCorp put the miners on notice. But the miners wrote an “oops-my-bad” letter to the state saying that the Tetlin tribe/council is NOT an ANCSA corporation. However, this did not change what they still have in the Mineral Lease and what they published with the SEC for their investors. It still reads the Tetlin Council is an ANCSA village corporation. 

I think the Mineral Lease has other things in it, that should make any Tetlin member question. I’m counting on TNCorp to keep giving us the FACTS, please, like that great article by Dermot Cole about KINROSS. “Just some more facts please”

What I want to know is, if the Tetlin Council or their Chief believes that TNCorp is making “a number of inaccuracies, misstatements and unsubstantiated allegations…”, why don’t they tell us what those inaccuracies, etc. are and show us their proof? 

TNCorp details their claims and backs them up with proof. Their website, tetlincorp.com/news is loaded with information concerning their concerns with the KINROSS partners. 

I think there have been things hidden from the tribe about the mining project. The KINROSS partners don’t speak up, and the Council only praises the KINROSS partners and with no proof, takes jabs at TNCorp. I’m hoping the Council, or the Chief will step up and give us facts. 

Kevin Gunter Tetlin Tribal Member and family to TNCorp Shareholders 


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