MAC: Mines and Communities

Canadian native protesters block road to De Beers mine

Published by MAC on 2013-02-19
Source: Reuters, APTN National News

Canadian native protesters block road to De Beers mine

Julie Gordon


14 February 2013

TORONTO - Native protesters have blocked the winter access road to De Beers' Victor mine in Northern Canada for the second time in less than two weeks, raising concerns over supplying the diamond project before the spring thaw makes the site inaccessible except by air, the company said on Wednesday.

Bruce Shisheesh tosses injunction notice into the trees on 17th February
Bruce Shisheesh tosses injunction notice into the
trees on 17th February 2013. Photo: APTN

De Beers, a subsidiary of Anglo American Plc, has a window of about 45 days to complete its winter transportation program on the ice road. The company's trucks have so far faced disruptions on eight of 12 days since the program was launched.

De Beers Canada has notified the protesters and the local community of a potential legal action in an effort to regain control of the transport corridor for fuel, machinery and other large supplies, spokesman Tom Ormsby told Reuters.

"We need action at this point to get the road open, that's our priority," said Ormsby. "There will be economic consequences for all involved if we cannot successfully complete this program, and it impacts the operation of the mine."

The most recent barricade was set up on Sunday by a small group of protesters who are demanding the company provide compensation for the loss of traditional trap line territory.

A previous blockade, which ended last week, was rooted in the terms of a 2005 Impact Benefit Agreement between the mine and the nearby community of Attawapiskat.

If the company is unable to ship in all the large items needed for the year, mining operations there could be curtailed, which in 2011 produced some 779,000 carats.

The project is located in remote Northern Ontario, some 90 kilometers (56 miles) from the community of Attawapiskat. The mine employs more than 60 people from the aboriginal reserve and over 100 people from other First Nations communities.

Attawapiskat gained national notoriety last winter after a housing crisis there brought to light the dismal living conditions faced by many of Canada's 1.2 million natives.

First Nations across Canada have launched protests in recent months under the "Idle No More" banner in an effort to raise awareness over squalid living conditions, addiction and other social issues on reserves.

De Beers said it provides financial compensation to the community under the terms of its 2005 deal. It is up to the community to redirect that compensation to its members, including those with trap lines affected by the Victor mine.

"This is a long-term partnership and we have to maintain that," said Ormsby. "But at this particular juncture we have to stress the urgency of successfully and safely completing this program."

Diamond mine hit by second Attawapiskat blockade

By Jorge Barrera

APTN National News

11 February 2013

ATTAWAPISKAT-About a dozen Attawapiskat residents launched a second blockade on an ice road leading to a De Beers diamond mine Sunday.

The blockade, which began Sunday evening, forced a convoy of several empty fuel trucks back to the De Beers Victor diamond mine which sits about 90 kilometres west of Attawapiskat in northern Ontario.

A separate blockade ended Thursday.

A cube truck, several pick-up trucks and wooden pallets blocked the branch of the ice road leading to the De Beers mine. The diamond mining giant depends on the ice road to haul things like fuel and equipment too heavy for easy air delivery.

"We just want to be heard," said John Edwards, one of about a dozen people at the blockade late Sunday evening. "Attawapiskat is idle no more."

Edwards said part of the blockade was motivated by De Beers' failure to compensate his family for the impact the mine has had on their traplines. The mine is also next to where his grandmother is buried.

"They never gave...anything to date for trespassing on the trapline," said Edwards.

He said it was time for De Beers to compensate Attawapiskat residents for the wealth the mine generates.

"This is traditional territory for us. We use the rivers as highways, we travel on them to hunt, to get access to other rivers," said Edwards. "It comes down to money. It is a money system that was introduced ever since the foreign immigrants came here. The immigrants came here, the king and queen system didn't work for them, the peasants came over, and they got rich on these lands."

This blockade comes three days after another blockade on the same ice road ended peacefully after De Beers, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence came to an agreement with another group of residents who demanded that the community's impact benefit agreement with mining giant be reopened.

Bruce Shisheesh, the spokesman for the first group, said it was his understanding the agreement has now been reopened. In a statement issued by De Beers following the end of last week's blockade, the mining company made no mention of reopening the agreement.

Spence was not in the community at the time the blockade was launched. The Attawapiskat chief is in Moose Factory for meetings.

De Beers could not be reached for comment.

Attawapiskat diamond mine blockade causing De Beers "financial damages," could force shut-down

By Jorge Barrera

APTN National News

13 February 2013

ATTAWAPISKAT - An ongoing blockade by Attawapiskat residents of an ice road leading to a De Beers diamond mine in northern Ontario is causing "significant financial damages" and "irreparable harm" which could force the mining giant to shut its operations down, according to the company.

De Beers officials hand-delivered a letter Tuesday night to Attawapiskat resident John Edwards warning him the company could seek an injunction against him if the blockade doesn't end. It's believed De Beers plans to deliver similar letters to at least two other individuals the company believes are involved in the blockade.

The warning letter comes as all sides prepare for a meeting Thursday to discuss the situation. A meeting was initially planned for Wednesday, but Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence won't return to the community until she ends scheduled meetings in Moose Factory, Ont.

The blockade, which began Sunday evening, is now entering into its fourth day and is the second such action in as many weeks. A previous blockade ended last Thursday. De Beers has an about 45 day window to ship supplies up the ice road.

The blockade forced a convoy of empty fuel trucks to turn back to the diamond mine on Sunday. It is set up about 8 kilometres from Attawapiskat on an ice road leading to the mine. The Victor mine sits about 90 kilometres west of the community.

The ice road to the mine is connected to a longer, main ice road which connects Attawapiskat to Moosonee, Ont., about 260 kilometres to the south.

The ice road is blocked by a cube truck, loaded with frozen meats and pizzas along with two barbecues, pallets and a constantly changing number of pick-up trucks.

The number of people at the blockade fluctuates throughout the day. A small group, including three pick-up trucks, was at the site shortly after midnight Wednesday and they feasted on two free pizzas from town.

The situation has been described as a "crisis" which is entering into "uncharted territory," according to two community sources with knowledge of the situation who requested anonymity.

De Beers' move to threaten a court injunction against the blockade has also opened the possibility of intervention by the OPP. While the Nishnawbe Aski police patrols the community, the force does not have jurisdiction over the ice road.

While it began quietly, the blockade has slowly gained support among some sectors of the community and its core group inclues three or four families who have traplines running through the vicinity of area controlled by De Beers.

The families are seeking compensation for the loss of their traditional territory. Others involved, however, say they joined the blockade because they believe De Beers should be investing in housing for the community. Some involved in the blockade also have personal grievances related to past employment and rates of pay.

Edwards joined the blockade because his uncle's trapline runs through the Victor mine and his grandmother is buried adjacent to the site.

Edwards told APTN National News he had no plans to withdraw from the blockade.

Victor Mine manager James Kirby told APTN National News that the ice road was the mine's "umbilical cord" and essential for its resupply. He said a prolonged blockade could force the mine to shut down.

The ice road is used in particular for the transportation of fuel, machinery and spare parts too heavy to fly into the mine's airport.

The ice road link, however, has been severed for eight days as a result of the two blockades.

The warning letter to Edwards was signed by Frasken Martineau DuMoulin lawyer Tracy Pratt. Pratt says the company has retained the law firm and states that De Beers "will not hesitate to protect and enforce its full legal rights through an injunction motion" if the blockade doesn't end.

"This unlawful conduct is causing our client significant financial damages and irreparable harm. Among other things, the blockade has serious health and safety implications and consequences for the mine's continued full operation," the letter states. "The continuation of this blockade cannot be tolerated."

The roots of the blockade extend years and centre on an impact benefit agreement between Attawapiskat and De Beers which was ratified in 2005.

Those involved in the blockade say the IBA did not have full community support when it passed. They argue that the IBA doesn't address the needs of the community or give Attawapiskat full benefit of the riches in their territory.

Under the IBA, De Beers has transferred $10.5 million into a trust fund held by Attawapiskat as of January 2011.

APTN National News has learned that De Beers is looking to use the trust fund money, which was originally created to provide funding for Attawapiskat into the future, to pay for some of the compensation claims issued by those involved in the blockade.

The mine had also generated $448 million on gross revenues as of January 2011, according to a De BeersPowerPoint presentation on the IBA.

De Beers says it has invested about $1.022 billion of capital costs into the mine.

De Beers says about $325 million worth of contracts have been awarded to "solely owned or joint venture companies run by the community" since construction began. Some in the community dispute the number accurately reflects the reality on the ground. Some have also questioned the make-up of some of the joint ventures.

De Beers says in its PowerPoint that a shorter Attawapiskat blockade in 2009 cost the company $3.5 million.

Waiting game in Attawapiskat on the diamond mine ice road blockade

By Jorge Barrera

APTN National News

17 February 2013

ATTAWAPISKAT - The diamond mine ice road blockade outside Attawapiskat continued into its eight day Sunday despite a sheriff planting an injunction notice in the snow at the site during the early morning hours.

The notice, which was stapled to a wooden stick, was thrown into the trees by Bruce Shisheesh, an evangelical minister who had initially withdrawn from the protest but returned to the site Sunday.

De Beers obtained the injunction from an Ontario judge on Friday.

While community members travelled back and forth from the blockade site, bringing food and support, Attawapiskat band officials worked behind the scenes to bring an end to the protest which has severed De Beers' time-sensitive overland supply route.

The mine relies on the ice road for fuel deliveries and the transport of machinery and replacement parts too heavy to fly in.

Attawapiskat community members have rallied around Rebecca Iahtail, 45, who was the last blockader standing following a band meeting on Friday. Iahtail says she is dying of cancer.

Iahtail's decision to stay gave renewed life to the blockade which is on an intersection by the ice road leading to the De Beers Victor mine site which sits about 90 kilometres west of the community.

Iahtail said a tentative agreement reached Saturday on a conference call with De Beers mine manager James Kirby was in jeopardy as a result of the injunction being served on the blockaders.

Iahtail and her supporters have said they wouldn't end the protest until a senior De Beers official signed the agreement in person at the blockade site. She said the serving of the injunction notice could derail an end to the protest.

"We told them there was an agreement between us and De Beers but they still came with that notice there. I think it is a serious thing. They already broke their promise," said Iahtail. "I am going to go with what my supporters say."

The Attawapiskat band was expected to send the agreement by fax to De Beers by late Sunday afternoon for the company's endorsement.

The agreement would see De Beers agree to a joint dispute resolution committee that would deal with issues like employment and training, housing and the need to compensate community members' whose traplines are in and around the Victor mine site among other issues.

"Attawapiskat First Nation wants to see this matter resolved so that Attawapiskat First Nation and De Beers may discuss De Beers' proposed further exploration projects in Attawapiskat territory," said the letter, signed by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence.

The letter also needs to be signed in person by Tony Guthrie, present of De Beers Canada.

Spence said the agreement could be signed by either late Sunday or Monday, but she worried about another visit from the OPP.

"We are waiting for De Beers to come with this agreement," said Spence. "Hopefully things will be resolved by tomorrow at the latest. But at the same time we are worried."

Spence spent the night in a wood stove-heated canvas tent after the sheriff, with an OPP escort, served the blockaders with the injunction at about 1:30 a.m.

The Sheriff returned about four hours after he was turned away from the Attawapiskat airport by Spence who presented him with a letter forbidding his presence on the reserve.

"They left and we assumed they took our letter seriously and respectfully, but that didn't happen," she said. "To see that notice, for them to come in unexpectedly and sneakily, to me, they don't understand our way and they don't respect our ways...It is very disturbing."

De Beers claims the blockade is threatening its operations for the rest of the year.

The mine ships up about 11 million litres of fuel up the winter road every year, along with machinery and parts too heavy to fly into the mine's airport.

The mine also uses the winter road to truck-up hazardous substances like ammonium nitrate and truck out "hazardous waste material" that can't be flown out of the mine.

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