Skip to content

NEWS: Blockade of De Beers diamond mine in Attawapiskat underway

APTN National News reports, “Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has called a band council meeting for Thursday (February 7) to discuss an unfolding blockade on the main winter road leading to the neighbouring De Beers Victor diamond mine. A group of Attawapiskat residents set up the blockade on Monday (February 4), according to a spokesperson for the (Luxembourg-based) mining diamond giant. …De Beers said the blockade had forced it to stop its operations on the road. The company depends on the winter road to ship fuel, machine parts and equipment too heavy to be flown in.”

APTN notes, “The mine employs at least 100 people from Attawapiskat at any one time.” Global News adds, “A federal review of the relationship between De Beers’ Victor mine and Attawapiskat showed that government support for training and capacity did not start soon enough to deal with the huge lack of skills in the First Nation. Attawapiskat Deputy Chief Gerald Mattanais told APTN he believes the blockade was launched over specific and personal reasons primarily over things like employment.”

The APTN news report highlights, “(The mine) generates about $400 million in annual revenue for the company. The company (which has operated the mine since 2008) has transferred about $10.5 million to a trust fund held by Attawapiskat as of January 2011.” By this calculation, four years of the mine would have produced $1.6 billion in revenue for the company, but just $10.5 million for a “trust fund” for the First Nation. And while it has been reported in other news stories that the royalties from the mine are paid to the Province of Ontario, not the Attawapiskat First Nation (despite the mine being on their traditional lands), MiningWatch Canada notes that De Beers has not even paid any of the Diamond Royalty or corporate taxes in Ontario.

Concerns have also been expressed about the dewatering from the mine site flowing into the Attawapiskat River, which the community relies on for fishing and to nourish local wildlife.

In early-January, APTN reported, “A sewage backup happened (in March 2005) 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 Jackie Hookimaw (whose basement was flooded at that time). …There was another sewage backup (in 2009) 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.” In the context of a community facing a significant housing crisis, the loss of homes through the actions of a mining company is all the more serious.

On December 20, 2012, Chief Spence – then in the 9th day of her hunger strike – was quoted by the Canadian Press saying, “If I die, things might get bad. Back home, there’s been talk of people shutting the mine down, there’s talk of roads being closed. We want peace, but we can’t control what happens if things get worse.”