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MOMENT TO REMEMBER – Kaska elder Mary Caesar, left, and CEO Janet Lee-Sheriff of Golden Predator Mining pose Tuesday after Caesar was awarded the Indigenous Trailblazer Award in Toronto.

Yukoner receives Indigenous Trailblazer Award

Kaska elder Mary Caesar of the Liard First Nation was awarded the 2019 national Indigenous Trailblazer Award by Women in Mining Canada on Tuesday in Toronto.

By Chuck Tobin on March 6, 2019

Kaska elder Mary Caesar of the Liard First Nation was awarded the 2019 national Indigenous Trailblazer Award by Women in Mining Canada on Tuesday in Toronto.

It was Caesar who recommended to Golden Predator a year ago this month that it needed to involve Kaska elders at its 3 Aces exploration project on traditional Kaska territory in southeast Yukon.

The company converted two cabins to accommodate elders at its camp off the Cantung Road, about 30 kilometres southwest from the border with the Northwest Territories.

All summer long beginning in June, four elders, either from Ross River and Watson Lake or both, would come into camp on Monday and leave on Friday.

And then another four the following week, and another four.

Altogether, the company hosted 80 elders through the summer.

They accompanied staff into the field, to learn more about the drill program and other facets of the project. They took helicopter flights for wildlife survey work.

The elders spent time talking to staff, educating them about the country they were working in.

“So we learned about the culture and the elders learned about us as a company,” Janet Lee-Sheriff, Golden Predator’s CEO, explained in an interview this week from the annual convention of the Prospector and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC).

The convention is recognized internationally, and is attended by some 25,000 from 135 countries.

There were somewhere around 1,000 people at the awards ceremony to see Caesar receive the award along with others recognized for their contributions.

Caesar’s sons and grandchildren were there.

Caesar took part in Monday’s aboriginal forum held as part of the convention. She was joined by Lee-Sheriff, Kaska elders Nora Ladue and Dorothy Smith of the Ross River Dena Council, and Susan Magun, a Golden Predator employee and a member of the Liard First Nation.

It was an emotional discussion, and included the impact residential school had on their community, she said.

“It was tough for a lot of people to handle that message.”

Lee-Sheriff said the Kaska elders were invited to breakfast this morning with the PDAC head.

They’re gathering their voices and they’re starting to run with it, because they’re finding people are listening to what they’re saying, she said.

The 3 Aces Project is focused on the exploration for gold, and encouraging results have been reported to the market by the company.

There were anywhere from 40 to 45 in camp last summer, including the elders whose expenses were covered and who were paid a per diem.

Lee-Sheriff said Golden Predator will be continuing its Elders in Residence Program this coming exploration season and going forward.

It’s a means of sharing the company’s vision while gathering input from the people who will need to support the project if it’s to be successful, she said.

Lee-Sheriff said the the elders have many stories, but their traditional knowledge is not recorded nor written down.

It’s not the company’s to keep, she said.

As the summer went on, they started using the Kaska language where possible, like when they saw a black bear or rabbit, they’re referred to in their Kaska names.

When they departed the dining hall or office, they tried to use the Kaska phrase for “see you later.” And they tried to use other phrases.

“All of a sudden, we are incorporating their language into our program,” Lee-Sheriff said.

Golden Predator employs Kaska members, she added, and the elders are proud to see members of their community working for the company.

But so too does it go the other way, she said, noting the number of Kaska employees who left the project during the summer fell to just two.

Lee-Sheriff said the elders are talking about establishing similar relationships with other exploration and mining companies working in traditional Kaska territory, and a couple have already responded favourably.

It was the elders who suggested they needed to have a retreat to end off the season involving the youth, she said.

For three days from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, there were about 80 in camp, including the elders, youth and Golden Predator staff, she said.

“They want to be more involved,” Lee-Sheriff said. “And we are pretty happy to have them their.”

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