Silencing mushers will not slide

 At the Iditarod checkpoint of Rohn in the 2014 race, I was amazed by the diversity of mushers: men and women, young and old, Alaskan Native to Jamaican. Nearly every musher looked completely different from the next, from carbon fiber sleds to one homemade from hockey sticks, to dog teams fed on wild Alaskan salmon, to mushers with sponsor logos on dog booties. I was convinced that the Iditarod truly is the Last Great Race because of the highly self-reliant individuals that dedicate their lives to the challenge.

Most all of them, however, were in very rough shape after descending the snowless Dalzell Gorge. Broken fingers, tears, tirades against the route choice, and shattered hopes for completing the race littered the yard. When the following winter failed to present snow again, the race was rerouted to avoid a repeat. 

It appears that the Iditarod might be changing in more ways than one. The massive proposed Donlin mining operation on the Kuskokwim River would alter the region extensively. Implications include far more than a pipeline. The world’s largest mercury capture/transport challenges, and perpetual water monitoring/treatment, for example are topics deserving open discussion and debate. 

After the B.C. Polley Mine disaster in 2014, it’s no wonder that those who share an interest in this area are unconvinced that everything will be just as fine as the corporations say it will be. Regardless of stance on mining, these risks should not be undermined and concerns about the hazards ought to be legitimately addressed, not silenced. 

 Under threat of permanent disqualification, a new rule from the Iditarod Trail Committee prohibits any negative or disparaging comments about race sponsors (which includes Donlin Gold) until 45 days after the race, safely beyond the April 30th deadline for public comments on the Donlin Environmental Impact Statement. Noteworthy is that Stan Foo, Donlin Gold General Manager, has been on the Iditarod Trail Committee Board of Directors since 2012.

Does Donlin Gold genuinely “value input from the community” or is this gag order an act of desperation after the purchase of favor failed? 

If one thing is true of Iditarod mushers, it is that they are independent and strong willed. They do not submit easily and neither will their fans. 

Kim McNett