By Jorge Barrera, APTN National News, Feb, 2013
Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Aboriginal liaison officers met with the Attawapiskat diamond mine ice road blockaders on Monday afternoon while the band council waited for De Beers to endorse an agreement that would end the now nine-day protest that has severed the mining giant’s overland supply route.
A court date is scheduled for Feb. 21 in Timmins, Ont., to hear arguments on an injunction obtained by De Beers late last week against the blockaders.
The blockaders have said they won’t allow the barricades to come down until De Beers officials sign the agreement at the site.
The agreement would see De Beers agree to a joint dispute resolution committee that would deal with issues like employment and training, housing and the need to compensate community members whose traplines are in and around the Victor mine site, among other issues.
“Attawapiskat First Nation wants to see this matter resolved so that Attawapiskat First Nation and De Beers may discuss De Beers’ proposed further exploration projects in Attawapiskat territory,” said the letter, signed by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence.
The letter, which was faxed to the company on Sunday, also needs to be signed in person by Tony Guthrie, president of De Beers Canada.
As of early Monday evening, De Beers had yet to respond.
The OPP is not expected to make any moves on the blockaders until after the court date.
The mine relies on the winter road for fuel deliveries and the transport of machinery and replacement parts too heavy to fly in. The ice road’s lifespan is not expected to last beyond mid-March. It opened on Feb. 1. It has been hit by two blockades since Feb. 4.
Attawapiskat community members have rallied around Rebecca Iahtail, 45, who was the last blockader standing following a band meeting on Friday. Iahtail says she is dying of cancer.
Iahtail’s decision to stay gave renewed life to the blockade, which is on an intersection by the ice road leading to the De Beers Victor mine site which is located about 90 kilometres west of the community.
Spence said she is worried about another visit from the OPP.
“We are waiting for De Beers to come with this agreement,” said Spence, in an earlier interview. “But at the same time we are worried.”
Spence spent the night in a wood stove-heated canvas tent after a provincial court sheriff, with an OPP escort, served the blockaders with the injunction at about 1:30 a.m. Sunday.
The sheriff returned about four hours after he was turned away from the Attawapiskat airport by Spence who presented him with a letter forbidding his presence on the reserve.
The Attawapiskat chief has been put into a delicate balancing act with the blockade, which does not have full community support. Still, Spence told APTN National News that as chief she has to protect her community members and she has visited the blockade site often over the past several days.
De Beers claims the blockade is threatening its operations for the rest of the year.
The mine ships about 11 million litres of fuel up the winter road every year, along with machinery and parts too heavy to fly into the mine’s airport.
The mine also uses the winter road to truck-up hazardous substances like ammonium nitrate and truck out “hazardous waste material” that can’t be flown out of the mine.
De Beers has already identified over a dozen additional potential diamond deposits sites in the area.
People in Attawapiskat say the community is also sitting on diamonds.