De Beers decision to dump sewage into Attawapiskat played role in current housing crisis

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.

By Ossie Michelin
APTN National News

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.

[email protected]

Online Producer / Ottawa

Before moving to become the APTN News social media producer, Mark was the executive producer for the news in eastern Canada. Before starting with APTN in 2009, Mark worked at CBC Radio and Television in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa.

20 thoughts on “De Beers decision to dump sewage into Attawapiskat played role in current housing crisis

  1. u2018Diamonds are Foreveru2019. & it seems Shit is Forever too, on Indigenous heads & in their basements….

  2. Looking at the de Beers website, the Victor Mine didn’t open until February 2006 – what activities were de Beers carrying out near to Attawapiskat that required them to dump sewage into the local system?

  3. This is a great start to an important story! But I need a little more detail to make the inference the Mr. Michelin is asking me to make. I hope we get a follow-up.nnWho was responsible for the maintenance of the pumping station?nnWas an agreement in place between DeBeers and the community for waste disposal, or was DeBeers illegally dumping the sewage?nnDoes the engineering report point to other possible causes for the pumping failure?nnGood start, now let’s dig a little more.

  4. Some photos :Attawapiskat First Nation, Fall 2009 – a set on Flickrnnhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/sets/72157624823882767/nWho is to blame for the sewage flooding into homes?n

    1. And yet Jackie Hookimaw also says the AFN did not sign the simple insurance papers, and herefore insurance won’t cover the damage…u00a0nnDid Debeers set up the sewer pipe to run off into the main river as well?

  5. Aha!u00a0 The nerve of these companies ruining these lands where the indigenous people live.u00a0 Apparently, they’reu00a0 indifferentu00a0 to the damage they do to the whole environment.The government thinks they have compensated them and they’re blaming those people for mismanagement of funds.u00a0 Ughh!u00a0 They’ve killed our way of life and what we’re used to!u00a0 The media and the government writes the bad stuff, because of what they created.u00a0 People that are not educated still are not educated.u00a0 You cannot learn from books alone.

  6. I am totally disgusted by these comments made pro-government.u00a0 The government has done nothing right towards the welfare of our people;u00a0 they pilfige the lands for their own profit, and leave us with the dirt and the dirty sewage they left behind, and THEY HAVE THE NERVE TO BLAME US FOR OUR COMPLAINTS AND POVERTY?u00a0

    1. how is this a pro gov artical they only mention the gov in a sentence or two ,when $90,000,000 should goes towards infrastructure in a 5 year span,then it is the band councils fault for not properly using those funds for addiquit housing for its people.why did thay not have de beers pay for housing when they did there Memorandem Of Understading or Impact Benifit Agreement,if you ask me the band council at that time were not very good in there negotiations with the corperate devils called de beers

  7. How can the media report on this story? u00a0 Do you really think they are going to dig into the truth? Good for APTN at least somebody is prepared to report on the story.

  8. We do realize the trolls are out here in great numbers, when the big oil companies are up to no good, the human rights activists deal with the trolls too. This is just another way for the corporations to strike back at us. We are here to tell you TROLLS keep it moving, The real people of the world are watching, reaching out and we will all together work to solve the problems that have stormed many aboriginal communities for years. We will no longer stay quiet.

  9. These despicable corporations are still dumping and digging not only ruining Mother Earth, but endangering the lives of others.u00a0 WE MUST HOLD these corporations accountable. Because it is not only the aboriginal communities across Canada that will deal with this madness, it is the problems of the WORLD.

  10. Band council needs to take responsibility for their role in this situation. You don’t end up like this all alone. It took many years and many people to make this situation. Time to stop the finger pointing and find solutions. Real solutions and not the temporary fixes going on now.u00a0nnSchoolsnEducationnSocial Programs

    1. Why frame it as an either/or situation, northern canoeist, when both long and short-term solutions are obviously long overdue?

    2. They assume responsibility on a daily basis by making do with what little they have. Real solutions are being offered all the time…its time for people like to to start listening…and thinking…and falling victim to every federal government scam going….

    3. Why don”t you go up there and use your big floppy suction-lips to suck up that sewage since your such a smart little Canadian with all the simple (simplistic) answers northern canoeist??

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