MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada: Attawapiskat members issue demands to DeBeers

Published by MAC on 2009-02-23
Source: Wawatay News

Protesters at a winter road blockade to the DeBeers Victor Mine near Attawapiskat First Nation have issued a list of demands they wish to discuss with DeBeers management.

The roadblock went up Feb. 6 to protest the Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA) signed between Attawapiskat and DeBeers.

"We feel that the people of Attawapiskat are not fully benefiting from the DeBeers operations in our territory. We are committed to ensuring that our people benefit directly. We are poor and we need to get out of the poverty we are in. DeBeers can help us in improving our community living conditions," said Greg Shisheesh, spokesman for the protesters.

Protesters want to revisit the terms of the current IBA to address issues such as zero tolerance for racism and discrimination, pay equity, a new school and housing in the community.

"The ratification process of the IBA needs to be reviewed. We want to ensure the membership fully understands how the IBA was ratified and we are asking for full disclosure of its contents to the people," Shisheesh said.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Hall sympathizes with the protesters.

"I do not necessarily agree with the blockade. However, I am in agreement that there are issues that need to be discussed. I will be meeting with DeBeers soon to discuss these matters," Hall said.

In light of the recent protest, Attawapiskat chief and council announced Feb. 13 a number of "emergency measures to encourage the resolution of the latest protest of some of its members."

The measures include immediate distribution of the IBA, earmarking profits from Attawapiskat-owned businesses into a legal fund and the use of 2009 Trust Funds for additional housing.

"We have done our utmost to fulfill our commitments under our agreements with DeBeers and our obligations to our membership's legitimate concerns. But, I think we can do more. That's why we are announcing these extraordinary measures," Hall said.

Tom Ormsby, DeBeers spokesman, spoke on Wawatay Radio Feb. 18. He said he has reviewed the list of demands and feels the company can work on some of the issues, but the community should deal with other demands.

"We're glad to see what the issues are. We have been in the community since this began ... we're going through the different issues," Ormsby said.

Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Stan Louttit met with the community and the protesters Feb. 13 and 14. He said the protesters are committed to their cause and if the will is there on both sides, an agreement can be reached.

"Many of the issues raised by the protesters are issues I feel can be dealt with rather easily. I am imploring DeBeers management to work with the community in resolving these issues," Louttit said.

The protesters have a 24-hour presence at the site. Local people who wish to use the road are allowed through.

Community discussions will be held in the coming days to keep everyone fully informed of the meetings with DeBeers.

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