Attawapiskat diamond mine blockade continues, protesters eye De Beers airport

An Attawapiskat blockade of a winter road leading to a diamond mine operated by De Beers could last until spring and expand to the company’s airport, says Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence.

By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
An Attawapiskat blockade of a winter road leading to a diamond mine operated by De Beers could last until spring and expand to the company’s airport, says Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence.

Spence said the handful of protestors who launched the blockade on Monday said they won’t end their protest until they get some concrete changes to the impact benefit agreement (IBA) between Attawapiskat and De Beers.

“The people who are blocking have a lot of concerns,” said Spence, who is currently on sick leave and recovering from her six week-long protest fast.

Spence attended a community meeting held Tuesday evening that ran until near midnight. About 60 people attended the meeting which included De Beers officials. Another meeting began Wednesday at about 5 p.m.

Spence said during Tuesday’s meeting one community member discussed giving De Beers 48 hours to vacate the mine before facing a blockade at its airport. The mining company flies out its diamonds via charters with schedules known only to a few key people.

She said their list of concerns include what they believe to be discrimination and racism at the mine, lack of employment opportunities and training programs, compensation for lost traplines and a clause in the impact benefit agreement between De Beers and Attawapiskat that absolves the company from having to fork over compensation for “unpredictable impacts” the mine could have on the environment.

“These are things that we are discovering. We are reviewing the IBA and there are a lot of items that need to be looked into and ask questions about,” said Spence.

Spence said it may be time to reopen and renegotiate Attawapiskat’s agreement with De Beers, but the band needs to be clear about the ramifications of such a move.

“The IBA is really not working for us…There are some things we need to work and improve the IBA,” said Spence. “If it is going to be reopened, there is going to be impact on certain things, we need to identify those impacts and get some legal advice on this.”

De Beers said the blockade had forced it to cease its operations on the road. The company depends on the winter road, which connects the mine to Moosonee, Ont., to ship fuel, machine parts and equipment too heavy to be flown in.

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’re hopeful the issues raised can be addressed quickly and a swift resolution can be found so the program can resume to the benefit of all, including the numerous local businesses that are providing the maintenance of the winter road, the deliveries of the fuel and freight and the related support required each year to run this program,” said Ormsby.

Attawapiskat resident Gaston Mudd is involved in the blockade and was heading out to the site Wednesday evening. He stood in -40C temperature on Monday until early morning Tuesday at the blockade. Mudd said part of the reason he’s on the line is because De Beers has been doing exploration work on his family’s traditional trapline territory without any compensation or consultation.

“The IBA comes first, that is what we are after. The IBA comes with the trapping,” said Mudd. “We want a new IBA, we want to close the old one and we want to open up another one.”

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7 thoughts on “Attawapiskat diamond mine blockade continues, protesters eye De Beers airport

  1. Michael Holloway says:

    Have the Attawapiskat FN mapped their traditional territories? Including Trap lines and other traditional and non-traditional economic activities? Once mapped, Be Beers could not plead ignorance as it surveys new mines – and Be Beers, as per Treaty 9 – would have to consult with the band BEFORE it started surveying and drilling test holes. With new data mapped, re-open the ICD. Also might want to monitor water outflow down the river at several points – inculding some upstream of the mine as a control.

    On another issue: why hasn’t De Beers offered to pay for a new sewer system pump and control system? Since Be Beers’ added volume of sewage appears to be the reason the Attawapiskat sewer system failed; backed up; then forced an evacuation (which lead to incompetent remediation by town officials of the vacated homes) – leaving dozens of homes uninhabitable due to mold. There’s plenty of blame to go around here – the Federal Government ignored the engineering consultancy reports they got in 2005 and again in 2006 (the 2006 report seems to be a report that intentionally minimizes the problem – talking about the systems’ Control Panel key slot which sticks … indicating – to this observer – that the engineering firm was paid to minimize the issues with the system so the Feds’ Shock Doctrine style policy of Assimilation could move forward.).

    [The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein 2007: Also Disaster Capitalism – In crises, neo-con governments let public infrastructure rot, offer no assistance to replace anything they are responsible for … leads to a mass exodus of the population — see: New Orleans after Katrina; Public Housing in NYC after Super Storm Sandy)]

  2. Congratulations…break treaties by blocking roads, keep people on the reserve from making an honest paycheck…..and complain some more and wonder why people are perturbed at your shannanigans. T ry doing something that is actually useful and legal. Do you know what a hammer and nail are used for? Help yourselves with an education.To be employed You need an education and a willingness to be at work on time, when needed…. not when you want to work, or when fellow tribe members will let you.

  3. Did Attawapiskat not enter into this IBA in good faith? But now it isn’t working for them. Of course it’s not working because Chief Spence can’t tell anyone where the money went. I can’t believe one person can do so much damage to the relationship between Aboriginals and non Aboriginals. If you want to idle no more about broken promises why not start keeping the promises you make first!

  4. I have long suspected that alcohol fetal syndrome explained some of the more bizarre actions of the INM movement (faux hinger strikes for example). Blocking the road De Beers uses to transport supplies has just confirmed it. This is the same company that has pumped 300 million into Attawapiskat over 5 years, and has helped the reserve overcome the incompetent management of it’s chief by providing portable housing. You Natives should be ashamed of what you’ve become-a nation of shakedown artists. APTN moderators will block this comment because the truth hurts. I’m going back to work now as I know the proud warriors are waiting for their handout.

  5. So here we have company which has entered into an agreement with a first nations community which has been a substantial benefit to the community through jobs (approx 100) and contract supply companies. Now the FN community wishes to reopen the IBA when many FN communities hold the Gov to a 100 year old agreement. Does anyone else find this contradictory, ironic confusing? Not sure which word I should use.

  6. In other words, forget that the band council took part in negotiating the IBA, it’s all DeBeers’ fault for the council signing it. That band and council has never, ever taken responsibility for anything.

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