Attawapiskat councillor accuses De Beers of trickery as showdown looms on diamond mine ice road

Moments after Steven Thomas, chief financial officer for De Beers, informed a group of blockaders the company would seek an injunction to have police end the ice road blockade, Attawapiskat band councillor Gerry Nakogee grabbed a microphone and accused the diamond mining giant of tricking the community.

(Attawapiskat band councillor Gerry Nakogee watches as De Beers director of external and corporate affairs Tom Ormsby photographs the IBA ballot which is held by De Beers CFO Steve Thomas. James Kirby, Victor mine manager, sits to the left of Ormsby. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Nakogee)


By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
ATTAWAPISKAT–Moments after Steve Thomas, chief financial officer for De Beers, informed a group of blockaders the company would seek an injunction to have police end the ice road blockade, Attawapiskat band councillor Gerry Nakogee grabbed a microphone and accused the diamond mining giant of tricking the community.

Wielding a ballot from the 2005 community vote on whether to accept an impact benefit (IBA) agreement deal with De Beers, Nakogee faced three company officials sitting at a plastic table with fold-out legs during a meeting Thursday at the Reg Louttit Sporstplex.

The sounds of a hockey practice could be heard through one wall.

“You tricked us,” said Nakogee. “You want proof, I got proof. This is the ballot that was used that day…that IBA was no good.”

Nakogee’s claim was met by cheers and table thumping from the blockaders who were sitting at a table across from the De Beers officials.

Thomas had said earlier the company officials walked into the meeting believing it would bring an end to the now six-day blockade on an ice road leading to the company’s Victor mine site, about 90 kilometres west of Attawapiskat.

Now the company had no other choice but to seek a legal end to the disruption, he said.

“Our understanding was that the blockaders would step down when the chief and council asked them,” said Thomas, during the meeting.

Thomas then told the people at the meeting that the company had “information packs for people blockading” so “you can understand what the steps are in the process.”

The people involved in the blockade opened their envelopes only to find a “notice of motion” seeking the injunction and a statement of claim seeking $130 million in damages. They had been served.

De Beers was expected to make their case before a judge in Timmins, Ont., at about 1 p.m. local time Friday.

In total, the ice road has now been blocked twice since Feb. 4.

The ice road only opened on Feb. 1 and the route may only last for three more weeks at the most, according to De Beers’ court filing supporting the request for an injunction.

De Beers says the two blockades have severed the mine’s resupply “umbilical cord” and could threaten to upend operations for the rest of the year.

The blockaders have now set up a canvas tent heated by a wood stove next to the barricades and Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence visited the site Thursday evening and promised the blockaders breakfast for Friday morning.

The two successive blockades have been launched over a litany of reasons, ranging from personal grievances over employment, to the need compensation for lost traplines, the housing needs in the community and environmental concerns. Many of the grievances are rooted in differing interpretations about the IBA and what it was meant to do.

Some residents in Attawapiskat believe the IBA did not reflect what the community wanted or verbal promises they believe De Beers made when the process began to negotiate an agreement. Some of the top priorities listed by the community members during community consultations held in 2004 included housing, better health care services, jobs and improved recreation facilities for the youth.

One of the blockaders, John Edwards joined the line on behalf of his uncle whose trapline runs through the Victor mine site. Edwards’ grandmother is also buried at by the mine site and his uncle, who only speaks Cree, has repeatedly stated his concern over the need for the community to have clean drinking water.

Several people, including Nakogee, have also been invoking the Idle No More movement as one of the motivations behind the blockade.


Nakogee claims the structure of the ballot used to vote for the agreement makes the IBA invalid. The ballot had two questions. One asked whether they voted supported the IBA. The other question asked the voter whether they supported an IBA trust fund.

“So if you vote yes, which one are you voting yes (for)? There are two questions,” said Nakogee.

A spokesman for De Beers, however, said the company had nothing to do with drafting the question.

“We had nothing to do with the process, not the question, not the determining who would vote, that rested entirely with the community,” said Tom Ormsby.

Out of about 1,700 eligible Attawapiskat voters, 286 on-reserve members and 233 off-reserve members voted in favour of the IBA during the vote in June 2005. Only 37 on-reserve members and 51 off-reserve members voted against the agreement.

The IBA provides Attawapiskat roughly $2 million a year and De Beers has transferred $10.5 million into a trust fund for Attawapiskat as of January 2011.

The mine had also generated $448 million on gross revenues by the same date, according to a De Beers PowerPoint presentation on the IBA.

De Beers says it has invested about $1.022 billion of capital costs into the mine.

De Beers currently says about $325 million worth of contracts have been awarded to “solely owned or joint venture companies run by the community” since construction began. However, some in the community dispute the number accurately reflect the reality on the ground and some question the make-up of some of the joint ventures.

De Beers says in its PowerPoint that a blockade in 2009 cost it $3.5 million.


De Beers believes it is being “held hostage” by people who are using the ice road blockade to “exert pressure on De Beers to succumb to their demands of, among other things, compensation, employment and housing, according to court documents filed by the company.

De Beers pays about $11 million to construct and maintain the 400 kilometre ice road which connects its diamond mine south to Moosonee, Ont.

“De Beers Canada depends on the use of the winter road for the majority of annual re-supply of the Victor mine,” according to one of the company’s court documents. “This annual supply is necessary to keep the mine operating and to keep the mine’s staff employed.”

The Victor mine employs about 430 people, including 42 per cent who are “self-identified First Nations members and the majority of whom come from the surrounding First Nation communities,” according to Thomas’ affidavit filed in support of the application for the injunction. Thomas states that 97 of the employees are Attawapiskat band members.

The affidavit states that the mine may be forced to make “significant staff lay-offs.”

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 ammonia nitrate and truck out “hazardous waste material” that can’t be flown out of the mine.

“Some products, such as ammonia nitrate present a security concern given the Moosonee yard (where it is stored) is not designed to be a long-term secure storage facility,” states Thomas.

Thomas states the blockade may make it “impossible for the mine to follow its 2013 mine plan.”

Attawapiskat is holding a community meeting at 2 p.m. ET Friday to determine their next move. Support for the blockade remains mixed; however the prospect of a possible OPP intervention is expected to draw some more support for the blockade.

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