Part of the job of an exploration company CEO is doing corporate presentations. Janet Lee-Sheriff, CEO of Golden Predator (V.GPY), was in Philadelphia to do a lunch presentation to a group of high net worth individuals. She began her presentation by showing Kaska Kayeh, a video about how the First Nations on whose land GPY is exploring, understand the land, the wildlife and the water and moving forward with mining interests. A video produced by Golden Predator and a former Kaska chief and featuring Kaska Elders speaking, often in their own language, about the sacredness of the land and how to work together.
“It opened the conversation right up,” said Lee-Sheriff. “These investors had heard about the TransMountain pipeline being put on hold because of First Nations issues. They didn’t know what to make of the First Nations situation in Canada and no one was able to speak to that situation. So, they had all these concerns and questions. The investors didn’t understand and that meant they were very reluctant to invest.”
“I spent half an hour talking about First Nations, working with First Nations and the nature of First Nations’ relationships,” said Lee-Sheriff. “The people putting on the lunch told me after that normally it was a pretty quiet group. Not that day.”
“The investors really wanted to understand how we worked with our First Nation communities,” said Lee-Sheriff.
One of the most interesting things about visiting the Yukon is it gives you a chance to see how well the mining and exploration companies in the Yukon have learned to work with the Yukon First Nations. This is not an “add-on” or “a cost of doing business”; rather it is a recognition of the reality of the Yukon.
For nearly thirty years Yukon First Nations have been an integral part of the entire decision-making process in the Yukon. Over those years First Nations, the Government of the Yukon and the companies mining and exploring for minerals have figured out how to get along. It is not a seamless process but it is well understood and enjoys wide support.
For Lee-Sheriff, involving the Kaska in the day to day thinking which drives the 3 Aces Gold Project in southeastern Yukon is a huge part of the job. It is a commitment Lee-Sheriff understands deeply from her years working in the communities, working for the Government of the Yukon and as the founding director of the Yukon Mines Training Association which secured federal funding for aboriginal mine training.
Lee-Sheriff knows that working with First Nations is much more than formal consultation and negotiated socio-economic and exploration agreements. It is a recognition of the First Nations rights, knowledge and culture. In May of 2018, Golden Predator created an “Elders in Residence” program at the 3 Aces site. A week at a time, elders from the Ross River Dena Council and Laird First Nation (part of the broader Kaska Nation) come to the camp “to support learning and understanding, promote cultural awareness and share wisdom/and teachings as part of the exploration process”. It is a unique program, where Elders live and work at the exploration camp as part of the team, but one which makes a great deal of sense.
More recently Golden Predator commissioned a video. The video was produced by a former chief of the Kaska First Nation, Brian Ladue, and, for most of its thirteen-minute running length, we hear the voices and the language of the Kaska Elders. Ladue is quoted in the Golden Predator press release as saying, “It’s always a great pleasure to work with my Elders, especially on important cultural and land related projects. It’s also very encouraging to see a company such as Golden Predator taking the lead on making efforts to change the status quo when it comes to how industry conducts themselves with First Nations. Film is such a great medium to express cultural perspectives and is a powerful method to effectively reach many people in a positive and productive way. It truly is the evolution of storytelling in a modern world.”
“We wanted an educational and teaching tool about Kaska culture and to better understand what it means to work in the Kaska traditional territory,” said Lee-Sheriff. “But we wanted the Kaska Elders to tell us.”
“We didn’t screen the language,” said Lee-Sheriff. “We wanted to hear what they wanted to say.”
“It is about the different places we are from,” said Lee-Sheriff. “We wanted to hear what the Kaska saw as important. First Nations never think less than seven generations ahead and really are about the big picture when mining is really only one use of the land and water. They have much bigger issues and responsibilities and exploration and mining companies need to understand our role in that big picture.”
The result was a video which is very true to the land and the people where Golden Predator is exploring for its 3 Aces project. There are stunning winter scenes of drill rigs at the top of a fairly substantial mountain but that is pretty much the only visual reference to Golden Predator.
“Originally I was not even going to be in the video,” said Lee-Sheriff. In fact, Lee-Sheriff adds a great deal to the video because, when she does appear, it is clear that the CEO of Golden Predator has been listening very closely to the Elders. Which matters because the video reflects the approach Golden Predator is taking to the entire set of questions which operating in traditional First Nations territory raises.
Lee-Sheriff’s understanding goes well beyond benefits agreements and consultation. “When we began the project, we were asked to hold a prayer ceremony on the mountain and we all prayed,” said Lee-Sheriff.
Kaska Kayeh is about as far away from a promotional video as it is possible to be. Which does not worry Lee-Sheriff, “As we got into the video we realized that the financial markets and investors in Canadian companies need to know this story.”
Now the video has been screened in the Kaska communities and it will be part of the introduction investors and media and contractors receive when they come into the 3 Aces camp. “You receive a safety briefing, a corporate overview and now you’ll see Kaska Kayeh,” said Lee-Sheriff.
Kaska Kayeh is embedded below. If you want to understand a little bit about the Kaska First Nation’s understanding of their land it is absolutely worth watching. If you want to have a glimpse at the future of a mining company’s deepening relationship with First Nations, this is one piece of that future.