Lydia Olympic is a Yupik/Sugpiaq from the Village of Igiugig, a small and remote village located in southwestern Alaska. Iguigig is on Lake Iliamna, the state’s largest lake, and the Kvichak River, which drains into Bristol Bay.
Growing up, Lydia spent a lot of time fishing. She still goes home every summer to help her family collect and dry salmon at their fish camp. But most of her time these days is spent organizing and teaching people about development proposals that could threaten Bristol Bay’s fish, other wildlife resources and ways of life.
“This land of bounty has provided for our families, our culture and our traditional way of life for tens of thousands of years,” Lydia said. “This land is what we call home. We need our lands and waters to stay pristine to continue living healthy lifestyles. We will still be here long after the mining companies have left.”
Lydia has served seven years on the Igiugig Village Tribal Council, including two years as Council President. She also served as Environmental Director for her tribe. As the elected Vice-Chairman of the National Tribal Operations Committee for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lydia helped identify the high cancer rate among indigenous peoples of the United States, and created a budget for environmental needs in Indian country, including clean air and safe drinking water. She also assisted in creating the Tribal Mining Advisory Committee to help tribes understand mining laws and regulations.
Lydia works for The Wilderness Society where she educates tribes and federal officials about the proposed Pebble Mine and related environmental and regulatory issues. In 2007, she was invited to attend and completed the Native American Political Leadership program at George Washington University. In 2009, she won the EPA’s Region 10 Daniel Ellanak Environmental Excellence award for her work.
Lydia attended the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and Anchorage. Lydia also finds time to serve on the board of Alaska Community Action on Toxics and the Native American Rights Fund.
“The risks are absolutely too great for this precious place we all call home,” Lydia said. “Our traditional Native culture is already threatened and this mine would destroy our subsistence way of life and our spiritual connection to our lands and waters. We must do all that we can to protect this extraordinary place with its unparalleled global resources.”