by Daniel B. Ausdahl Jr.
My name is Daniel B. Ausdahl Jr. from Kalskag, Alaska. I am 39 years old. I am a Heavy Equipment Operator for Knik Construction, Captain and Owner of T Bird Tours, Kalskag’s School Bus Driver, part-time maintenance man for three schools in Kalskag, and help at Ausdahl’s mercantile store. I worked and lived in our region my whole life. Traveling from job to job when needed. The fall of 2013 was the last time I worked away from home. Since then I have only worked in Kalskag.
In 2001 or 2002 I got hired at Donlin for a season as a Heavy Equipment Operator, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After landing at Donlin, a familiar face came out of the pick-up truck, Wassillie Kameroff. It was nice to see someone from home. He explained to me that my first day at Donlin will be an orientation followed by a tour of the camp. If there was time left he told me that we might take a drive up to the top of Louis.
I was impressed at how organized it was and it was nice to see this place and the people working here before starting on my first actual work day.
I worked for Donlin Gold off and on for four years. I stayed with Donlin Gold for four years. Over the years with Donlin I learned about how exploration for gold works. I worked with people from our region and from around the world. During all my years of working here I was never forced to make a safety decision, it was clear that safety was the highest priority. If you did not feel comfortable with the issue at hand you were never forced to do something you felt was unsafe.
Donlin followed MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) safety regulations, not OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). Donlin Gold also had two observers for safety. That was their job, to make sure everyone was practicing safe habits daily in camp and in the field. If anyone working there felt unsafe during a job or project, it would be put on hold until the work area was checked. The people on site assessed the situation at hand with the Safety Coordinators and Supervisors of Safety before moving ahead with the job or project.
Donlin Gold also gave you opportunities for your hard work. I was one of the local people that was given this opportunity. If you had good attendance, worked well with others, showed that you were reliable, and were willing to be versatile with other jobs at Donlin Gold, you got raises, or moved up in position. If you moved up Donlin Gold would train you.
Those of us that accepted this challenge understood that both sides were making a sacrifice for this to be possible. We gave up precious time with our families or during our time off. They trusted us to follow through on our commitment and to come back with education to share with others.
I started at Donlin Gold as a Heavy Equipment Operator, and has several jobs before Donlin Gold started a new department that I was given the privilege of supervising, Special Projects. When Special Projects was between assignments I was a Supervisor or Lead worker in the field. I would work in one of the other departments as a core cutter, pioneering roads, reclaiming, or making drill pads out in the field if needed. I worked with the environmental team helping retrieve data from the field, helped in the shop, wherever the camp needed assistance until the department I supervised was on another project.
Donlin Gold asked if you were willing to be versatile. If you choose not to be versatile, work only lasted as long as your current job position. The company would give you a two week notice before shutting down any department. Opportunity was there as long as you were willing to work.
I often wondered how this place will look as a mine in full operation. I know the landscape will change. I know that it will be different to see the land around the Donlin Gold camp developed, transformed from its natural state what will exist only in memory, photos and digital video.
The real question is can this mine be developed safely? People get used to change, some are slower than others and some accept it sooner. Sometimes things we choose not to accept now, we choose to accept later if the actions that are done, are done right!
While working I watched people from different parts of our region working together from the coast all the way up to Lime Village and Stony River. What a precious sight. I watched people in our region accomplish great things together. I watched our people grow in confidence in every successful job and project. Things they probably never though they would be a part of. I watched as we learned how to continue our journey from our failures, learning from mistakes made along the way. I heard stories of hunting trips, fishing trips, berry picking trips, or just a joyride with family.
I heard stories of what workers were going to buy with a loan from the bank, made possible by their employment. Trucks, cars, boats, outboards, snow machines, and four wheelers were bought because of their employment at Donlin Gold. The same people in our region that are working their shift are going home on their time off and living a subsistence lifestyle by hunting, fishing, or gathering.
I believe in the success stories of the people I got to work with at Donlin Gold. Some were young, some old. By believing in the people in our region that have and will work there means that I support Donlin. I believe in the current generation, and in future generations in this region that are furthering their educations in college, trade schools, and internships. By believing, trusting, and supporting our people, from our region, that they’ll carry out their jobs with a passion while employed there makes me a supporter of Donlin Gold.