De Beers ups pressure on Attawapiskat Chief Spence to end diamond mine blockade

De Beers is pressuring Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and her band council to bring an end a four-day blockade of a winter road leading to the company’s Victor diamond mine in northern Ontario.

(The Attawapiskat ice road blockade on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Nakogee)

By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
ATTAWAPISKAT–De Beers is pressuring Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and her band council to bring an end to a four-day blockade of a winter road leading to the company’s Victor diamond mine in northern Ontario.

In a letter delivered to Spence on Tuesday, the law firm retained by De Beers says the company would be seeking an injunction against the blockaders Wednesday morning.

“As the leaders of the community, we urge you to use best efforts and to take appropriate steps to ensure that this unlawful activity cease immediately,” says the letter, signed by Fasken Martineau lawyer Tracy Pratt.

De Beers Victor mine manager James Kirby has said the blockade could force the diamond mine to shut down. The mine depends on the ice road to stock up its fuel supplies and to ship up machinery and replacement parts too heavy to fly into its airport.

The blockaders said Wednesday they had been told by a De Beers employee that the OPP would arrive at the site sometime Wednesday. As of early evening the OPP had not yet appeared.

The ice road, which leads to the De Beers mine has been blocked for a total of eight days over the past two weeks. A previous blockade ended this last Thursday.

De Beers pays for the construction cost of the about 400 kilometre road from Moosonee, Ont., to the Victor diamond mine, which sits about 90 kilometres west of Attawapiskat.

The blockades have been driven by a number of grievances ranging from personal, past employment and pay issues with De Beers, to the lack of housing in the community, the need for compensation over the loss of traditional traplines and burial sites along with overarching environmental issues.

The blockaders have also expressed concern over an impact benefit agreement (IBA) between Attawapiskat and De Beers which they believe fails to give the First Nation a fair cut of the riches contained on their traditional territory.

The core of the current blockade has been maintained by about four families. The numbers at the blockade site also fluctuate throughout the day.

De Beers spokesman Tom Ormsby, however, claims the blockaders are driven only by personal issues.

“The blockades this year have originated from a small group of individuals with very specific individual concerns, mostly about employment, training and compensation for pervious work,” said Ormsby.

Ormsby denies the issues are “rooted” in the IBA.

Ormsby also denied De Beers was looking to have Attawapiskat dip into its IBA-linked trust fund to pay some of the compensation claims issued by the blockaders.

“De Beers is not ‘looking to use the Trust Fund money’ for anything, as De Beers does not manage the Trust Fund nor have access to it,” said Ormsby. “The Trust Fund and the parameters around the use of the Trust Fund were set up by Attawapiskat First Nation, who own and administer that account. De Beers’ only role is to direct payments into the Trust Fund per the schedule in the IBA.”

De Beers has transferred $10.5 million into a trust fund for Attawapiskat as of January 2011.

Attawapiskat gets about $2 million a year from the mine.

The trust fund was created to provide funding for Attawapiskat into the future.

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. Though 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.

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5 thoughts on “De Beers ups pressure on Attawapiskat Chief Spence to end diamond mine blockade

  1. What an outrage! How can anyone deal seriously with the first nations? They are totally out of control.

  2. Band corruption, lack of accountability,and tribal council money being funneled into a select group of family’s pockets, while the rest of the tribe deals with poverty, lack of clean drinking water, and no job opportunities. Same story, different day.

  3. Call the OPP, they have no jurisdiction on First Nations Lands and can be thrown off by a simple request by any of the band(Tribe) members. Not only that but all of the equipment on the land at the mine could be the Tribes property because the costs of that equipment came from the resources taken from the mine ( I’m not saying it is but they can take that stand). I’m sure De Beers does not want the people mining the stuff themselves and flooding the market with diamonds.
    If I was at De Beers I would be greasing some hands and not involve the OPP who have no jurisdiction and neither does any court in Canada. The long arm of Canadian Law stops at the Tribes land. Listen to the people, Talk and understanding goes a long way, while brute force will get you nothing. Sit down with them, smoke some sweet grass ( not Marijuana ) bring gifts of Tobacco and firearms and really listen. You will get farther this way than threatening people who own the lands and the mineral rites.. Trust me on this one….

    Paul…. Non Status Aboriginal … Update according to the latest Supreme court ruling.. Indian

    Just a thought

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