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Working at Donlin Gold

Q&A with Daryl McKindy, Calista Shareholder from Aniak

Storyknife, Nov./Dec. 2019 edition

Calista Shareholder Daryl McKindy from Aniak recently talked to Storyknife about what it’s like to work at the Donlin Gold camp and how he balances work and home life.

Since 2007, Daryl has worked for the Donlin Gold Project as a heavy equipment mechanic. He and his wife Gina have four girls. They lived in Aniak until 2015, when Gina accepted a job in her hometown of McGrath and the family moved upriver.

Between hitches at Donlin, Daryl has worked for the Division of Forestry in McGrath, providing wildland firefighters in Southwest Alaska with equipment, food and supplies.

“Always be ready for change. Be safe, go home with five fingers and toes. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions or ask for help.”

Daryl McKindy, Calista Shareholder working at Donlin Gold

Tell us a little about growing up and finding work in Aniak.

I was born in Bethel but was raised and grew up in Aniak. There is a lot of hunting and fishing—I like it. The fishing is abundant, and we have moose hunting. You can travel on the ice roads to surrounding villages.

In 1985, while I was still in school—probably 17 or 18 years old—I started working for the city sewer project as a laborer. One day the project manager asked me if I wanted to excavate. Calvin Simeon—he was the same age and we graduated together—he was the backhoe operator hired before me. He taught me after I got hired.

Later I worked at the Aniak shop that distributes, repairs and sells Yamahas and outboard motors. I did that for 15 years, and after that, started working for the school district, where I branched off into automotive mechanics and building maintenance.

How did the job come up with Donlin?

I didn’t know much about Donlin at the time. It was a job opportunity that came up. A way to make money to support our family and pay for fuel and everything else we need. I sent in an application, did an interview. After I passed the physical and drug test, they said yes, and I said yes, too.

For the first two weeks, I was doing camp maintenance. After that, supervisor Joey Evan of Lower Kalskag asked if I wanted to work in the mechanical shop. Right away, I said yes. That was my field.

How did you get used to working at a remote site on a two-week rotation cycle?

It was really good. A lot of the people working there, I already knew from other villages after working for the school district.

It took a while for Gina to get used to the two-week on, two-week off schedule. After the first two months, it got easier. When you are home, you leave your work behind. It’s nothing but family time. At work, it’s nothing but work, educating yourself on the job and moving forward with the work that you have.

Tell me about a part of the job you enjoy a lot.

When you move a drill rig, you need heavy equipment, water, drill equipment, and helicopters for air support. The part I like is making a drill deck. We make our deck from the bottom up, setting a foundation and cribbing it up to make it all level and the direction they need to drill. Then you are building up the deck and supporting it with wood for the drill to sit on, and a support with four posts in the center, so the rig doesn’t move. It takes a couple days. The rig starts moving in pieces. The team sets the platform down, comes back, gets the motor, comes back, gets the tower, then gets the tools, equipment, fuel, water and the geo shack. Then we get the drillers and geologists in place so they can have a happy day of drilling.

What is your advice for Shareholders who are interested in working at Donlin but unsure about working away from home?

The biggest thing is that you have to dedicate yourself for the work you need to do and be aware of it, both you and your spouse. If you can get through the first two hitches, you are pretty well set after that.

I feel like the camp is a good place. They are really nice people who work out there. There’s housing, showers, a TV room, pool room, a small gym. We have health medics and safety people. We have a safety meeting once a week, for an hour. That’s the time when you get to voice your opinions about how to make things better around the workplace.

What’s your advice for young Shareholders who want to find work in the Calista Region?

No matter where you are working in the state of Alaska, finish your education through high school. Get your math, reading and vocational skills while you are in school and it’s still free. The work will always be around—when you start your education, try to finish it first.

Also, I encourage them to get used to traveling for work. I had to travel for work. Most of the time, work is not at home. All the jobs close to home will be filled up until people retire or leave.

Always be ready for change. Be safe, go home with five fingers and toes. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions or ask for help.

Interested in working at the Donlin Gold Project?

All job openings with the Donlin Gold Project, including those hired through contractors, have a hiring preference for Calista and TKC Shareholders and Descendants.