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Nancy Mendenhall Retrospective
Nancy Mendenhall
In this 2007 discussion, Nancy Mendenhall talks about the changes in Nome since the original Nome Communities of Memory project in 1996. She talks about the effect of global warming on coastal erosion and salmon populations, and about the effects of gold mining and regional economic development.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2007-03-02

Project: Nome Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Jun 21, 2007
Narrator(s): Nancy Mendenhall
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
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Communities of Memory project

Global warming in Nome

Global warming effects on salmon populations

Impact of new gold mine near Nome

Positive changes in the community

Energy problems and the negative effect on Nome

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I'm Nancy Mendenhall. I've lived in Nome since 1973 and came to Alaska, to Southeast Alaska, in '61. I was the original coordinator on this Communities of Memories project and I was working with George Sabo. He was doing all the media part of it and eventually published a book. And then we did it again in '98 and another book so ...George was a very important partner on this.

I enjoyed that, the whole thing. I love that whole project. The whole thing just was great. And so I'm glad that Bill is doing something more with it now.

As far as changes since '96 go, I think the main changes that I've noticed, and I think affect everybody here, probably...a big one that everybody in the country already knows about is the global warning.

I think that we've certainly seen it in the arctic and the subarctic and Shishmaref has been a lot in the headlines, the villages that's disappearing. I have my own little version of Shishmaref down at my camp where we lost a lot of beach in the last couple years and they're doing a lot of sandbagging and putting old truck tires in with rocks and so on to try to hold the bank.

I don't know if it's going to work or not if we have another big storm in September, I just don't know. We did have to move our cabin. And certainly it’s not a big economic loss to us at all. It’s just the inconvenience and's much more than that to other people in the villages here.

Another part of the global warming, I think, but nobody knows for sure, and that is what happened to our salmon here. For many years it went down, down, down until finally we couldn't fish in the river and then pretty soon we couldn't fish in the ocean. And just this last year some of the salmon, the chum salmon, started to return in normal numbers.

So we're hoping that that'll continue. But now the king salmon count is going, they say it's going to be down. One of the theories is that its caused by the warming of the ocean waters, and if that's the case there's not much we can do about that except just manage the fish real carefully.

Another thing that has to do with the environment and it’s been quite controversial, is the new gold mine that is going in very near Nome and the whole town is spit over that because some people are excited to see the economic development that it'll bring for, I think they say it's a five year deposit, and jobs and other economic development.

But other people are very concerned about the long-range possible impact of the mine with the heavy metals possibly leaching out through the dam and so-on and getting into the watershed.

So right now there was, just recently, a lawsuit regarding this and they may decide to appeal it. The mine won on the first go-round.

One of the really positive things I've seen in Nome aside from greatly-improved housing that continues to get better and paved roads helps a lot with the dust, and that is we have a new small boat harbor, which we didn't have before.

And it’s a great thing for Safety, for the people going in and out of the...what was not really a harbor at all, it was a dangerous jetty approach.

And that's a many-million dollars project that went in. Great benefit to Nome and whatever comes in the future.

One other thing that's been really good for the economy, and that is the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation has promoted small scale fishing here.

And they've done that in a lot of complicated ways that I won't go into, but at any rate the advantage has been the growth of a small fishing fleet that we didn't have here before and another way for people to make a small living.

So, that's...that's probably, for me, the most positive thing that's happened here for the community as a whole.

And, one thing that's affecting everybody in the community that's negative, and that is the energy problem and the huge increase in gas prices and now we see it in the food prices too. And again, that's the whole country.

Nome isn't that much different and we probably get each, each year more like the rest of the country.