More Info on Attawapiskat Blockade of De Beers Diamond Mine
Posted by Zig Zag
Attawapiskat residents say only a fraction of community benefits from mine’s prosperity
CBC News, Feb 5, 2013
The mining company De Beers is trying to find out more about why a small group of people from Attawapiskat is blocking the road to its diamond mine, 90 kilometres west of the community.
Up to eight people who say they want Attawapiskat’s Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA) with De Beers to be reviewed have been blocking the road to the mine since Monday.
The Victor mine will soon mark five years of production — roughly the halfway point in the projected lifespan of the mine. But the relationship between De Beers and the community is still a work in progress.
More clarity on the issues that divide them may be forthcoming after a public meeting at the community hall in Attawapiskat, which was slated for 5 p.m. Wednesday night.
More money for social programs?
Some Attawapiskat residents say prosperity from the mine has benefited few rather than many.
“For those people that are working, they seem to have money, they can feed their families,” said Jackie Hookimaw-Witt, who often comes forward to talk about problems the community faces. “But it’s only a certain percentage that are working.”
She said she would like to see more of the money Attawapiskat receives go to social programs.
About 100 of the 500 people who work at Victor mine are Attawapiskat band members.
Danny Metatawabin — the same man who stood with Chief Theresa Spence during her recent hunger strike in Ottawa — is the co-ordinator for the band’s IBA with the company.
“It seems that we still have a lot of outstanding issues or unresolved issues stemming from the day the mine operations began up to this day,” Metatawabin said.
“There has been a lot of disgruntlement against employee terminations or descrimination issues, racism issues, even the fact that there are certain families that have traditional territories within the boundries or close to the Victor site.”
Some of the people involved in the road block were dismissed from their positions at the mine. Their concerns are among several others that are being worked on by a committee that, for the past six months, has been working with with De Beers.
Metatawabin’s position was created in 2011 to review the IBA document.
“I am the neutral person here, I’m the IBA co-ordinator,” he said. “I’m hoping [the] parties, De Beers Canada, the mine manager along with chief and council can come to the table … And I am hoping that the blockaders will sit along the table as well and talk about all these issues and come to an understanding.”
Metatawabin said a lack of communication is a big problem.
“We don’t communicate. That’s what I am hoping for, that’s what I am asking for that we communicate with each other and that we have that understanding amongst each other from both parties and ensure the safety and make sure everything works out with everybody,” he said.
Strong business growth
De Beers spokesperson Tom Ormsby said it can be trying to hear some of the criticism the company faces.
“The progress I’ve seen with our partners … they now, as a community, have this very strong over-arching business entity that is learning how to win contracts,” he said.
“Attawapiskat now even has cell service, and none of the other coastal communities have it at the level Attawapiskat has — that’s a result of their business growth. So it’s frustrating when you see everyone tarred with the same brush.”
Various businesses have been created in Attawapiskat to serve the mine as well, including a catering company. De Beers said contracts with businesses in the community have exceeded $300 million over the years.
The company also said it spent a couple of million dollars on a training center that it tacked on to the local high school. The center offers everything from basic adult education to mine-specific training.
And, as a part of the Impact Benefit Agreement signed in 2005, De Beers makes payments to a trust fund that was set up by the First Nation.
Ormsby said there have been challenges — but nothing the company wasn’t prepared to take on when it opened the remote mine.
“So we knew that coming in … we are coming into an area that has a different history than if we had found this mine 10 miles outside of Sudbury or Timmins,” he said.
Ormsby said mining could wrap up at the Victor mine as early as 2018. It will then take several years to properly close the mine.
The company has also discovered other possible mine sites, but Ormsby says none have proven economically viable yet. He added any future production would require a fresh impact benefit agreement with Attawapiskat.
Currently De Beers is working with Attawapiskat residents to help renovate some trailers the company donated to the community beleaguered by housing issues.
Attawapiskat Chief Spence calls for band meeting as diamond mine blockade unfolds
APTN National News, Feb 5, 2013
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has called a band council meeting for Thursday to discuss an unfolding blockade on the main winter road leading to the neighbouring De Beers Victor diamond mine.
A group of Attawapiskat residents set up the blockade on Monday, according to a spokesperson for the mining diamond giant.
De Beers and Attawapiskat band officials were meeting with the blockaders on Tuesday afternoon. One of the band officials involved in talks is Danny Metatawabin, who was Spence’s spokesman during her fast in Ottawa. Metatawabin is the coordinator for the impact benefit agreement between De Beers and Attawapiskat.
De Beers said the blockade had forced it to stop its operations on the road. The company depends on the winter road to ship fuel, machine parts and equipment too heavy to be flown in.
The mine sits about 90 kilometres west of Attawapiskat and is Ontario’s first diamond mine.
The blockade has as of yet not impacted the mine’s operations, said Tom Ormsby, a De Beers spokesperson. Ormsby said the mine has built in flexibility to its shipping plans that would allow it to continue unimpeded even if the road shut down for a week. He said the mine has about a 45 day window to ship materials up the road, but is prepared for much shorter timelines.
“We always build in a flexible timeline,” said Ormsby. “In the past, we lost a week because water came up over the Albany River…we always try to go short, in case, for whatever reason, there is an interruption.”
APTN National News has been unable to reach any of the individuals involved in the blockade. Cell phone coverage is limited in the area.
Attawapiskat Deputy Chief Gerald Mattanais said he believes the blockade was launched over specific and personal reasons primarily over things like employment.
“In the past, some people lost employment at Victor and others were recently fired and others did not respond to their obligations…Issues like that I keep hearing,” said Mattanais. “I would look at it that way at the present time.”
Mattanais said the blockade would also have a detrimental impact on Attawapiskat if it continues because some in the community work as sub-contractors for the mine and depend on the road for work.
“Sub-contractors we have from our community can’t even go to work on their road. It is affecting everyone, the relationship with one to the other,” he said. “I know people are looking for jobs and if we hold for a week it is going to be big.”
Mattanais said Spence was in the office earlier in the day and asked him to coordinate a meeting on the issue for Thursday.
“We are concerned, I think the leadership is concerned about it,” he said.
De Beers does not transport any of its diamonds over the road and instead flies them south via charter on schedules known only to a few people.
The mine employs at least 100 people from Attawapiskat at any one time. It generates about $400 million in annual revenue for the company.Â The company has transferred about $10.5 million to a trust fund held by Attawapiskat as of January 2011. The mine began operating in 2008.