by Jay Watts, Rebel Youth, April 15, 2016
In 1995, a report issued as part of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples called suicide “one of the most urgent problems facing aboriginal communities.” 22 years later, Canada’s ongoing colonial project is still taking a staggering and gruesome toll on the health and lives of First Nations. In Attawapiskat, a community of close to 2,000, there were 11 suicide attempts last Saturday [April 9, 2016], on top of 100 suicide attempts since last September.
In response to such events there has been mobilization. In Toronto, Idle No More and Black Lives Matter have responded with an occupation of an Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada office; in Ottawa people are marching from Parliament Hill to INAC in Gatineau; while other INAC offices are being occupied in Winnipeg, Regina and James Bay.
But recent events in Attawapiskat are not simply a generalized response to decades and decades of Canadian colonialism – the specifics of Canadian colonialism in Attawapiskat are damning, too… Attawapiskat is 90km from the open-pit Victor Diamond Mine, where multinational diamond company De Beers, founded by the British imperialist and white supremacist Cecil Rhodes, has managed to work out an astonishingly preferential agreement to plunder the resource wealth of the Attawapiskat First Nation with the complicity of the Ontario and Canadian governments. The mine itself is on lands taken from Attawapiskat First Nation through an extension of Treaty 9 in 1930.
Figures are hard to come by, but according to the company’s own report in 2010, De Beers didn’t pay corporate, federal or provincial taxes as “the company was in a loss position for tax purposes.” In 2015, investigative reporting by CBC found out that De Beer’s had pulled $2.5 billion worth of diamonds from the Victor mine since opening, and was paying almost nothing in royalties. In 2014 alone, De Beers pulled $392 million of diamonds from Victor Lake mine but only paid the Ontario government $226 in royalties. The Cree Community of Attawapiskat received none of the (pitifully small) royalties.
Even before the diamonds started to flow to De Beers, a poorly reported event (covered only by APTN) occurred in Attawapiskat that helped spur the housing crisis that would lead to Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike which galvanized the Idle No More movement in 2012. In March of 2005, De Beers secretly dumped a load of sewage into Attawapiskat’s pumping station. The sewage system, ill-suited to deal with the overload, backed up and caused considerable damage to houses throughout Attawapiskat. Ontario First Nations Technical Services investigated and thought De Beers a likely suspect, but the company denied any knowledge of the event.
So when De Beers closes Victor Mine and eventually leaves Attawapiskat territory in 2018, what will be the final tally in dollars, and what will the impact be on human lives? Billions of dollars in diamonds squeezed from the Āhtawāpiskatowi ininiwak land, a pittance in royalties paid out to the provincial government, and a river of shit from De Beers overwhelming Attawapiskat’s sewage system and ruining homes.
De Beers decision to dump sewage into Attawapiskat played role in current housing crisis
By Ossie Michelin, APTN National News, Dec 13, 2011
While the housing crisis in Attawapiskat has the country’s full attention, it was an event on March 5, 2005, that pushed the community toward its current dire state of affairs.
Attawapiskat resident Jackie Hookimaw still remembers that moment.
“My father, he noticed at three in the morning…there was a big awful smell and there was something leaking into the basement,” said Hookimaw.
A sewage backup flooded the dirt basement floors of several homes in the community, including Hookimaw’s parent’s home.
The sewage backup happened around the same time that De Beers, the international diamond company currently operating a mine 90 kilometres from the community, disposed their sewage sludge into the community’s lift station, said Hookimaw.
Documents obtained by APTN National News back Hookimaw’s claim.
Ontario First Nations Technical Services was called in to assess the situation and its engineers concluded that the De Beers discharge may have been behind the sewage backup that ended up in the basements of homes in Attawapiskat.
“What is currently known is that De Beers discharged a load of sewage into the pumping station. This might have precipitated the overloading of the pumping station, thereby causing sewage backup,” said the engineering report.
The engineers also noted that the federal government was informed of the problems, but Ottawa did little to try to fix things, according to a follow-up report by different engineers with First Nations Engineering Services.
“The general condition of the pump control panel is very poor. There is a key switch to control manual selection of the pumps. It is very difficult to operate and may fail at anytime,” the report noted.
The report found that the system was very fragile and at high risk of failing.
“There is no overload protection. This is an extremely risky way to run a pump,” the report said.
De Beers was told about the reports by APTN National News, but a company spokesman said they knew nothing about it.
“I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with the story you’re talking about,” said Tom Ormsby, spokesperson for De Beers.
In 2009, the warnings from engineers proved prophetic. There was another sewage backup which displaced more people, forcing many to be evacuated.
Aboriginal Affairs refused to pay for the evacuation and the band was forced to foot the bill.
Seven years after the first sewage backup and the Hookimaw family home remains empty.
While the house was abandoned, the pipes froze and burst, spraying water throughout the interior.
Eventually toxic mould took over and made the house completely uninhabitable.
The family received an insurance cheque for $25,000.
Throughout the current crisis, the federal government, from the prime minister down, have repeatedly blamed the band council for Attawapiskat’s current state of affairs.
APTN National News tried repeatedly to get a comment from Aboriginal Affairs on this story, but no one returned the calls.