Hi and welcome to the latest post on the Fission blog. We're now a few weeks into the new year, following a previous twelve months that delivered strong progress for both the uranium sector and for Fission Uranium. As our project continues to advance, so too does our level of engagement with Indigenous groups. Today we're sharing a new Q&A with our President and CEO, Ross McElroy, who is joined by Chief Teddy Clark - the elected Chief of the Clearwater River Dene Nation.
The CRDN are signatories to Treaty 8 and are one of the key indigenous groups and rights-holders in the Western Athabasca PLS region, where Fission's PLS project is located.
The goal of our Q&A today is to help shareholders and the community understand our relationship, including the current phase of cooperation and engagement, and expectations for the future.
Fission Host: Let's start with how Fission first began working with the CRDN.
Ross McElroy: Fission commenced detailed exploration at PLS in 2011, and one of our first actions was to introduce ourselves to CRDN and find out how we could work together. Although our company was new to the area, many of our team, including myself, have worked for many years in Northern Saskatchewan.
Our industry talks about engagement with communities because that's the official term, but really you need to think about relationships, and specifically about collaborative relationships. From exploration through development and into production – it all has to be a collaborative effort with rights holders and stakeholders.
So that was how we approached the relationship from the start, and it has been through working transparently, and in partnership with rights holders like CRDN, that Fission has been able to develop PLS into a world leading uranium development project.
Chief Clark: Fission sat down and right away they asked us: how can we advance our project in a way that works for the Clearwater River Dene Nation? And I told them: don't be a stranger. Be honest. Tell us what you are doing. Tell us what you are planning.
I explained to Fission, listen to what we have to say and learn from us. We are the custodians of this land. If you work in partnership with us then we can all make sure that this project gets done right.
And you know, Fission did what they said they would do. They kept us informed at every step. And members of CRDN have worked at PLS from the start of the project.
But the most important thing is that Fission has listened to us when we've had concerns. The Fission deposit is shallow and at first they were thinking about mining this as an open pit. But when they told us about that option, our members said no, we don't want that, we don't want an open pit mine.
So Fission did another big study and afterwards they changed their plans to an underground mine. And you know what? That has proved to our members that Fission is listening to them. It tells them they are respected. It tells them hey, this is a company that they can work with.
Fission Host: Over the last 12 months, Fission has transitioned from explorer to developer, appointing yourself, Ross, as CEO, then hiring an experienced operations team and moving the project into the feasibility study and environmental assessment phase. At the same time, the relationship between Fission and the CRDN has also evolved. So the next question for you both is: what does this evolution mean for Fission shareholders and CRDN members?
Ross McElroy: The last 12 months or so have been a big period of change. At the end of 2019 we re-tooled our team in order to take PLS into development and on towards the point at which we can make a decision on commencing construction.
It's important to understand that once a company starts development, there are government regulations and guidelines for how companies engage with rights-holders and stakeholders. However, my team has been in this business a very long time and our approach has always been to go above and beyond those guidelines in order to seek genuine, collaborative partnerships.
So, before we had actually moved into development, I reached out to Chief Clark and his team to explain our plans and to start discussing the next stage of working with the CRDN. As you know, those discussions turned into negotiations for the Engagement and Capacity Funding Agreement that was signed in March, 2021.
What this agreement does is move the relationship forward by formalizing certain key processes, the most important of which is the gathering and sharing of information. It also provides CRDN with the opportunity to contribute to the Environmental Assessment "EA" and to review and provide advanced feedback on regulatory submissions in respect of the PLS Project.
Fission will provide funding for these processes, including studies addressing the potential interactions between the PLS Project and CRDN Indigenous rights, knowledge, culture, and traditional land use. These processes are also important because they will establish the foundation for Fission and CRDN to negotiate a long-term impact benefit agreement if the PLS Project is approved for construction and eventual production.
Chief Clark: Until now, CRDN and Fission have built a strong relationship with mutual trust, respect and honesty. That's what we need when a company is exploring for minerals on our traditional lands. Once Fission became a developer, it was time to move things to the next level.
The capacity and funding agreement we negotiated with Fission gives us structure. It means CRDN will be working with Fission to make sure we identify any impacts to our rights and culture, our traditional land and resource use, and our community interests. Once we know what the impacts are it means we can work together to explore how we address the impacts.
As well as being formally involved with the project review and assessment, CRDN is also going to benefit because the agreement is going to build capacity and support skills development for our members.
As Ross said, if construction is proven to be feasible then we've got the starting point for negotiating the Impact Benefit agreement.
Fission Host: As we all know, Fission commenced the Feasibility Study in June of 2021, and also the Environmental Assessment phase on December 1 of 2021. This is obviously a very important period for the company. Are you both confident that everything is in place in terms of the Fission and CRDN relationship?
Chief Clark: Yes. Fission is an example of a company that's doing things right. We've got the confidence to go forward because Fission and CRDN have agreed on all of the next steps. We're pleased because Fission has committed to working with us in the right way for CRDN and for our traditional lands. The processes are formalized and we've got a relationship based on years of mutual respect.
Ross McElroy: Yes, everything is in place to advance the PLS project through the Feasibility and EA phases. We enjoy a strong relationship with CRDN because everyone has been clear about what they want to achieve and how best to achieve it. We're looking forward to continuing to build on this strong foundation and to delivering benefits at every level.