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Working with the people of Kalskag

On June 19th I flew up to Kalskag to address this year’s Tribal Gathering in Lower Kalskag. While not knowing what to expect and since many of the people in the village rely on the salmon run for subsistence, I wasn’t sure how many people would be at the gathering. However, I wanted to support Jackie Levi, Tribal Council, and our main links in Kalskag. I made the trip not knowing what to expect but would have been satisfied to sit around a table with five or six individuals. To say my expectations were “not high” would be accurate.

In reality there were between 50 and 65 people in the community center at any one time. While I lead off the roster, there were representatives from the Kuskokwim Village Corporation, Donlin Gold, Yukon/Kuskokwim Health Corporation, and the State Patrol. I was given 30 minutes to explain to the gathering what we had accomplished in the past six months and what was on our agenda for the next six. After my 20 minute talk I was happy to answer another 30 minutes of questions and participate in a very frank conversation with very interested adults regarding the trouble their community was experiencing with their youth. Afterward I was proud to be there and proud of our organization’s willingness to reach out to try to meet the needs spelled out to me. That said, I know that we are there to lend a hand and that the real work will always be those in the village, nevertheless I was also struck with the task ahead.

Related but separate from the meeting, we have just submitted a grant proposal to help us develop Elder Mentor and Youth Training for this August in Kalskag. With the group that we were a part of this past semester it was determined that the Elders in the Village are willing to help the youth of the village and the youth seemed open for the support but neither group seemed to connect at a level that could be sustained over time. The Grant, if received, would help us pull together Elders from the village as well as Elders who have successfully bridged that gap outside of the village, along with the youth from Upper and Lower Kalskag in a three day session during the second week of school this semester. We believe we have the people, the “know-how” and the willingness to develop a great training. We are hopeful we can get the additional funds to implement.

As I flew back from Kalskag that day, I was once again struck with the enormity of the task. There are so many villages struggling with the same issues. I know people like us have tried to help villages like Upper and Lower Kalskag before. It is times like these that I think about the modern day parable of the person who is asked why she is throwing the starfish back into the sea to save their lives. “Why,” she is asked, “since the task is futile – there are so many to save – how can it matter?” “It matters to this one,” is the response.