The Iditarod is truly the Last Great Race. But it has also struggled for funding in recent years, and in 2016, it capitulated to major sponsors – including Donlin Gold – to install a “gag rule,” which prohibits mushers from criticizing race sponsors, among others.
Rule 53 of the Iditarod Official 2020 Rules states:
“All Iditarod mushers will be held to a high standard of personal and professional conduct. Musher conduct that is recklessly injurious to the Iditarod, Iditarod competitors, sponsors or anyone associated with the race is strictly prohibited.”
How will race officials define “recklessly injurious?” It’s hard to tell, but we do know one musher got in trouble for simply sharing and commenting on a couple anti-Donlin articles on social media.
“I believe that the mushers should not be forced to jump on the “yay Donlin Mine train,” the musher wrote. “Donlin Gold is coercing Alaskans by paying Iditarod over a million dollars in exchange for muzzling the mushers, and winning the approval of Alaskans. This heavy-handed censorship is of course troubling.”
We’ve heard stories how Donlin Gold officials work to curry favor in local villages by dropping-off pallets of bicycles or taking elders by helicopter on berry picking trips, and we’ve come to expect such corporate efforts to buy-off local residents.
But it’s quite another thing for Donlin Gold to help stomp on the free speech rights of Iditarod mushers. These ham-fisted tactics, however, are not new. In fact, Donlin was the second largest donor opposing the fish habitat protections found in the Stand for Salmon Ballot Measure 1 in 2018 – pumping in over $1.2 million to the effort. And that campaign produced a new low point in Alaska political dialogue, with Outside firms flooding Alaskans with a tsunami of lies, fear and misinformation.
But why would Donlin Gold fight so hard against sensible upgrades to Alaska’s one-sentence long, 60-year-old fish habitat protection law? Well, that’s easy. It’s all about the money, and if Donlin actually had to protect fish habitat, it couldn’t take nearly as much money out of Alaska to satisfy its Outside investors.
Now, Donlin is pressing the State of Alaska for a right-of-way permit to build a 315 mile-long gas pipeline from Cook Inlet to the Kuskokwim to power its giant gold mine. The pipeline route will run next to the Historic Iditarod Trail through more than 50 miles of Rainy Pass. Iditarod Trail advocate and musher Dan Seavey wrote a compelling piece about the significant impacts to the trail from the pipeline.
While Donlin has adjusted its pipeline route to try to reduce impacts to the Iditarod Trail, the fact remains, the Donlin pipeline will forever change The Last Great Race.
But under the “Gag Rule,” Iditarod mushers who want to race will be mum about the Donlin Gold mine and similar projects when they get to Nome this week. And that’s downright un-Alaskan.