What does rural healthcare in Alaska have to do with jobs? A lot, according to The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation. The regional healthcare provider is opposing the Donlin Gold mine. And a big part of an anti-Donlin resolution the corporation passed last month focuses on the potential for jobs to leave the region if the mine is developed.Download AudioDonlin runway and camp site in summer 2014. (Photo by Dean Swope, KYUK – Bethel)In 2010 a group from YKHC and state officials hopped in a boat to tour the Kuskokwim villages closest to the Donlin site. They wanted to see how the mine could affect the region’s health. One of the travelers was Dr. Joseph Klejka, YKHC’s Corporate Medical Director.“It was a very interesting trip, a lot of surprising information, not what we thought people would say,” Klejka said.Klejka said villagers were worried about losing people to urban areas if the mine opened. They had already lost some people during the mine’s exploration phase between 1996 to 2010 when the mine hired about 300 locals.“Once they had a salary, they moved to Anchorage,” Klejka said. “Because it didn’t matter where they lived, the mine would pay for them to come in and out for the job.”Klejka said the health corporation wants to improve living conditions for the region. It wants to see basic amenities like running water and flush toilets in every village. But improvements like that require local money. Klejka says if that money and the people earning it leave, that has a big impact on the villages.“You leave behind the very young and the very old who are more of a drain on our system,” Klejka said.But Maver Carey, President and CEO of the The Kuskokwim Corporation, said people have been moving out of the region for years, regardless of whether or not Donlin’s camp has been operating.“We’ve seen a huge increase of people leaving the region and moving to the Anchorage area,” Carey said.TKC owns the surface rights to the mine and serves as the native corporation for 10 villages along the middle Kuskokwim. Carey said when the mine’s exploration phase began about 20 years ago, half of TKC shareholders lived in the region. Last year, that number dropped to a third.TKC doesn’t know why they left, but the native corporation’s priority is to help its shareholders, which it sees the mine doing. Carey said where those shareholders live is up to them.“It’s the individual’s responsibility to determine where they want their family to live,” Carey said. “It’s not up to us to dictate to anybody that they should stay in the region.”The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation isn’t just worried about losing people. It’s also concerned about losing subsistence resources to possible mining hazards like mercury and cyanide.Carey with The Kuskokwim Corporation says those fears are unfounded. She said their elders partly chose the Kuskokwim land for its minerals when forming the corporation, and responsibly extracting the minerals can co-exist with the subsistence lifestyle.“Responsibly is the key word. Responsibly developing our land is going to benefit our shareholders over time,” Carey said.But YKHC Board Chairman Esai Twitchell said the risks to that land outweigh possible benefits.“What we do right now, what we do today affects the next generation or the generations after that that live in our region,” Twitchell said. “They’re going to be here when we’re long gone.”The mine expects to provide about 3,000 jobs during construction and 1,000 during operation.
ShareTweetShareEmail0 Shares June 20, 2015; New York TimesFor most of us, a few unexplained truant days in grade school likely resulted in a chat with the principal and, at worst, a call home. But in Texas, school truancy is classified as a class-C misdemeanor, which has disproportionately affected black and Hispanic students. Now, Texas Governor Greg Abbot has signed a new measure to decriminalize unexcused absences effective September 1st.In 2013 alone, Texas filed 115,000 truancy cases for those students who had three unexcused absences in four weeks. Schools with students who had missed 10 days in six months were required to file a misdemeanor for failure to attend school. The law carried a hefty potential fine of $500, a fine some families had not been able to pay, leading their children through the court system.Of course, the issue of truancy is not new, but students’ missing several days at a time is troubling. Teachers and school officials have tried for years to figure out how to stamp out chronic absenteeism productively. Criminal prosecution for missing school is different, and it has prompted the Justice Department to investigate whether it does more harm than good.A study of the state’s truancy policy by social and economic justice advocacy group (and opponent of the law) Texas Appleseed found serious counterproductive effects, especially on black, Hispanic, and disabled students. Four out of five students sent to court for truancy were economically disadvantaged and eligible for free or reduced lunches. Over the course of three years, judges ordered about 6,400 students to drop out of school and take the GED test, only to fail. One in five of those students required special education.As indicated in an article from NPR earlier this year, an illness, familial circumstances, or a learning disability could cause a student to miss school but would not warrant a court-ordered appearance. Instability at home or personal issues like pregnancy or drug use suggest that the student would benefit from support rather than incarceration.“In the vast majority of cases, the school, working with the student and family, could address the truancy problem if it made meaningful attempts to do so,” said Mary Schmid Mergler, director of Texas Appleseed’s School-to-Prison Pipeline Project, in the study. “Instead, schools often pass the responsibility to courts that are not designed, equipped or trained to provide meaningful assistance to students and their families.”Texas Appleseed has filed a complaint with the Justice Department against the Dallas County truancy courts, which at 36,000 prosecuted more truant cases in 2012 than any other Texas County. Accord to Texas Appleseed’s study, despite the record number of truancy court cases, the state’s absenteeism has not improved.—Shafaq HasanShareTweetShareEmail0 Shares