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UPDATE: From the Kalahari to Attawapiskat, diamond mines and human rights

Two weeks ago (on Monday February 4), a group of Attawapiskat residents set up a blockade on the winter road that services the De Beers diamond mine on their traditional territory. The concerns that have been expressed include: 1) the dewatering from the mine site flowing into the Attawapiskat River, which the community relies on for fishing and to nourish local wildlife; 2) the mine disposing of their sewage sludge into the community’s lift station causing a sewage backup in numerous homes in the community; 3) low-levels of Attawapiskat residents employed by the mine; and 4) and the minimal royalty payments to the community.

APTN reports, “De Beers obtained an injunction (against the blockade) from an Ontario judge on Friday (February 15). …De Beers claims the blockade is threatening its operations for the rest of the year. …The mine 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.”

“(On Saturday February 16), backed by a number of community members, Chief Theresa Spence turned away the sheriff (who carried the injunction) at the Attawapiskat airport. She handed a letter to the sheriff forbidding him from entering the community. …After conferring with two OPP officers who awaited his arrival, the sheriff returned to his airplane and flew away.” But the sheriff later returned at around 1 am on the morning of Sunday February 17 and read the injunction notice to the handful of residents still at the blockade at that time.

“The airport drama followed a tentative agreement that was reached between De Beers, the band council and the remaining blockaders who have rallied around Rebecca Iahtail, the last holdout following a community meeting on Friday. …Iahtail says she has colon cancer and was given three years left to live (and) says her impending death is part of the reason why she’s decided to stay until the end. ‘I got to do something,’ says Iahtail. ‘I know I don’t have much time left.’ …The agreement would require De Beers to commit to dealing with a number of grievances, including the housing situation in Attawapiskat, Iahtail said. The blockade (was) expected to end sometime Sunday after a senior De Beers official signs the agreement.”

This story continues to unfold and we’ll keep you updated.

It may be useful to remember at this time that De Beers also holds the diamond mine licenses in the ancestral homeland of the Kalahari Bushmen in Botswana, and that the head of De Beers in Botswana publicly welcomed the eviction of the Bushmen from lands where they sought their water. In August 2010, Blue Planet Project founder Maude Barlow condemned the Botswana government’s failure to allow the Bushmen access to water. She stated that, “In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly declared that everyone, everywhere, has the right to water. But now the world witnesses one of Africa’s most prosperous countries denying its first inhabitants the right to sink a well, while promoting mining and safari camps just a few miles away.” By January 2011, the Botswana Court of Appeal granted the Kalahari Bushmen the right to access water on their ancestral lands. Barlow said at that time, “This is a major win, it’s the first test case of our right to water resolution at the United Nations.”

For more, please read:
NEWS: Attawapiskat blockade of mine could continue into the spring, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=19182
WIN! Kalahari Bushmen win right to water in Botswana court decision, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=5277