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The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alaska deepened these strong relationships while introducing the Donlin Gold community relations team to new – and primarily virtual – collaborations with villages in the Y-K region. Donlin Gold had
more than 320 contacts with key individual stakeholders and community organizations in 2020, twice the usual number of contact events made in previous years, with most communication occurring by telephone or video conference. Donlin Gold was
able to reach out to communities and Tribes multiple times
during 2020, including many they had not connected with in prior years. Usual stakeholder engagement involves regular in-person meetings with key community leaders, community group update presentations, program development consultation, responding to environmental issues, and education and assistance with health and safety matters. From regular engagement with tribal councils to seeking partnerships with new parties, Donlin Gold was able to stay connected to advance key activities and projects throughout the region. Donlin Gold is guided in its approach by a detailed stakeholder engagement plan that uses stakeholder identification and looks at their level of responsibility, influence, proximity, dependency, and representation in the project region. As part of ongoing stakeholder mapping, organizations and individuals are categorized as low- or high-influence as well as low- or high-impact in their relationship to the project. In addition, stakeholder surveys are regularly conducted in Alaska to uncover information or identify communication gaps and provide perception mapping of the project. An example of this is Calista’s 2020 media campaign “Truly Our Project,” which communicated that the Donlin Gold project is located on Calista land – something surveys had indicated most Calista shareholders were not aware of.
Donlin Gold works hard to address all concerns raised by residents of the Y-K region through its ongoing stakeholder engagement efforts. Community concerns or complaints may be conveyed in-person or by telephone with one of the community development or community relations personnel, or submitted through an anonymous online contact form. There were no grievances related to human rights (or any topic) filed in 2020, and there were no unresolved complaints outstanding at the end of the previous year. Still, Y-K region stakeholders regularly request information or share topics of concern with community relations staff, including employment opportunities, timing of project development, and increased health and safety protocols related to COVID-19.
Donlin Gold’s multi-decade collaboration on community development programs with Native Corporation partners is
one aspect of the stakeholder outreach program. Another is the sponsorship of local events and participants. The Kuskokwim 300 is considered to be the premiere mid-distance dog sled race in the world, covering a 300-mile trail stretching from Bethel across tundra and the Kuskokwim River to Aniak upriver and back. It is
a popular regional event that is supported through community investment funding by Donlin Gold. In January 2020, prior to the arrival of COVID-19 in Alaska, Pete Kaiser, a Donlin Gold-sponsored musher and 2019 Iditarod sled dog race champion, won the Kuskokwim 300. Kaiser was born and raised in Bethel and is the first Yup’ik musher and the fifth Alaska Native to win an Iditarod championship.
Kaiser takes a leadership role in speaking with youth in the community about suicide prevention and his musher coat has a stitched-on patch that states “Suicide is never the answer.” Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34. Based on CDC 2019 data, Alaska has the second-highest suicide rate of any state, with suicide being the leading cause of death among Alaska youth over the age of 15.
Donlin Gold also sponsored four Iron Dog teams for the annual snowmobile race in February. The Iron Dog is the world’s longest snowmobile race and covers more than 2,600 miles as it traverses the Alaskan backcountry. These races are traditions in the region and receive much local support, international media coverage,
and fans along the route and at each checkpoint.
Following the temporary closure of the project camp due
to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Donlin Gold donated thousands
of pounds of food to shelters and to every home in eight Middle Kuskokwim villages. Additional support of communities during the pandemic was the result of partnering with the Campfire Organization, the Association of Village Council Presidents, and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation to fund Elder and youth meals throughout the summer – serving 22 communities, 4,189 individuals, and a total of 34,000 meals to Elders and youth in the region. In addition, 260 boxes of fresh produce were distributed
to 56 villages.
Donlin Gold is also supporting TKC in a local community
development project to improve energy efficiency and develop reliable energy generation in all villages in the Middle Kuskokwim region. Other ongoing initiatives include providing online activities and programs for youth and Elders, strengthening sponsorships with investments in the First Alaskans Institute at the 2020 Elders & Youth Statewide conference and the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention.

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