Lesson Learned: It is extremely important to be innovative, often uncomfortable as you are new and different, when it comes to community engagement. At all times, I like to think about how we can make communities better from our projects.
Along the way, I’ve also come to fully appreciate the important role innovation can play in developing a mining industry that meets all stakeholder needs and interests—from investment return to environmental sustainability to community engagement. One significant event in that evolution came through my work with Golden Predator where one of our most exciting assets was a high-grade gold discovery in the traditional territory of the Kaska Nation in southeast Yukon: our 3 Aces project, which was sold in 2020.
Golden Predator faced a particular challenge at 3 Aces. We knew it had a lot of potential—there was visible gold sitting on the surface—but there was no way, at the time, to go to the market and raise money for exploration drilling. The company was $4 million in debt when I took over as Chief Executive Officer, and with survival in mind, we were forced to try something different. I also was, and still am, not a fan of the drill and finance model in the junior exploration space. I believe companies need a plan forward, and sadly the tax credits, government permitting process and regulatory environment, in some jurisdictions, perpetuate a never-ending exploration phase with little reward to companies, the community, the taxpayers, governments and the all-important shareholders to advance a project into production. But little Golden Predator had to choose and when I was handed a company with no cash and lots of debt, we knew we had to try something new (or maybe old school). Ultimately, we decided we should simply do a bulk sample instead of a more traditional drilling program. Our goal was straightforward: show what was there in terms of a gold deposit and whether it could be mineable, actually focus on metallurgy first (common sense) then use this valuable information to create an opportunity to raise capital to advance the project into a drill program.
Before we started the bulk sample we met with regulators to outline the plan who permitted the activities. Then, we knew our only option was to ship the bulk sample material to a plant in China (like all do), and we were certain the actual sample results would be questionable. But was it our only choice? Why would we not build a plant and process the material locally, keep the knowledge and technical skills local? Why not hire local people and involve the First Nation community in the project on many levels. We took the unusual step of deciding to do the first level of processing ourselves in the community of Watson Lake and we had local support.
In my opinion, First Nation leaders are more principally driven and guided by grass-roots democracy, not as subject to appeasing donors and influencers. They are open to change, from my experience; they want economic development but also want to protect the land and water. We experienced this support from the Kaska Nation at 3 Aces and could not have accomplished our innovative strategies without this openness. I truly believe First Nation governments can be the drivers of innovation and change, more so than larger public governments. Innovation can show us solutions, but it’s those conversations in the community, where we heard and acted on concerns, that guided us and led us to ask questions about how to do things better.
Innovation is not easy, and it is not always comfortable and if you want to innovate, you best be prepared to be uncomfortable. I hope I never forget a Kaska Elder telling me at the beginning of this journey that she wanted mining, she just wanted us to do it better. At least we were trying.