Attawapiskat holding winter blockade against De Beers

by February 25, 2009

Members of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario are holding a winter road block near the DeBeers Victor Mine, in protest of the Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA) that the First Nation signed with De Beers, a massive diamond multinational company based in South Africa.

The members have maintained a 24-hour presence at the blockade since it first went up on February 6.

"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," states Greg Shisheesh, a spokesman for the protesters.

The protesters want the terms of the current IBA to be revisted, so it can address a number of pressing issues for Attawapiskat, including racism and discrimination, pay equity, a desperately-needed school and new housing, explains Wawatay News.

They also want the the ratification process of the IBA 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," says Shisheesh.

Shorlty after the protest began, the Attawapiskat chief and council announced a series of "emergency measures to encourage the resolution of the latest protest of some of its members."

"Those measures include an immediate distribution of the IBA to more than 300 homes, earmarking the profits from Attawapiskat-owned businesses and joint ventures toward legal fees (up to $100,000) school and education warchest and high-level meetings have been confirmed with De Beers executives and representatives of the member protesters with a mediator, to name a few," notes the Daily Press.

"I do not necessarily agree with the blockage," said Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Hall in a recent press release, "however, I am in agreement that there are important issues that need to be discussed with De Beers."

Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Stan Louttit met with the community and the protesters last week. He says a number of meetings have been held since the blockade went up and De Beers appeared to be interested in resolving the issues.

"De Beers is a rich company with millions of dollars," states Louttit. "The company and the province are benefiting, but the community is benefiting only a little. We're still in poverty, we're still overcrowded and we don't even have a school."

  • Ziibi Qwa
    June 20, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    The stench of death and destruction that billows from even speaking the name De Beers is in itself a never ending, and terrifying horror movie. That a white country, Canada, with a white government, would dump this rotting sack of dog shit on a community that they themselves have raped and pillaged to near death, is beyond an act of genocide. It is, in fact, something that allows us to look inside the sick, sadistic, and sexually perverted minds of the oligarchy and its minions. Listening to, and ignoring, the forever screams of the suffering.....the ultimate snuff film.

    And what about those tens of thousands of white South Africans who fled to Canada, no immigration screening required for you guys, when they lost apartheid? All claiming to have been 'freedom fighters' against the S.A. regime. Livng in 'gated communities' in the land of the free now! So I hear. So what about it, boys? What about stepping up for 'your oppressed Indian brothers' in Canada....the way you claim you did for Black S. Africans. How about you do a little freedom fighting here, and put the screws on your fellow white S. African, De Beers?


  • Janet
    February 9, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    Personally, I think they're just too greedy. Now that they've signed an agreement with the other first nations, these people come along, claiming that they have a RIGHT in having proper schools, housing and living conditions from a mining industry? Well, it's time to wake up! These problems are not for a mining industry to take care of! Now that De Beers has done a generous (outrageous infact) agreement up north, these people use that as an excuse for taking claims on De Beers money for their own needs? Schools are under the provincial government, not a mining industry! If they're that despirate for better conditions, they should get together to start a school for their youngs, instead of waiting for someone else to help them!

    We're poor, and yet we pay taxes. We were poor to begin with, but we sacrificed our savings to move to Canada to have a better life! We took a risk, and apparently, these people aren't willing to take that risk. They shouldn't even be asking for De Beers help. In my opinion, De Beers is TOO generous!


    • February 11, 2010 at 4:33 pm

      I think you're missing the point, Janice. You may have come here by choice, but Indigenous people here were forced to become a part of this society. Let's not forget how long "machine guns" were pressed on the foreheads of our loved ones. Or how many times the trigger was pulled, regardless of how willing we were to do as we were told.

      As a result of that malignant, still-ongoing process, thousands of indigenous people in Canada aspire to be nothing more than average tax-paying Canadians (noting that indigenous people still pay taxes, every day, across the country). But even so, we all still hold onto the memory of who we are, and when it comes to traditional lands, we hold on to the agreements that were signed under duress and to those estranged things called Human Rights which Canada has no choice but to OBEY.

      Corporations are in the same position, regardless of what anyone says believes: They have an obligation to consult and accommodate indigenous people if they want to operate on indigenous lands.

      That said, in my view, Attawapiskat are the ones being TOO generous. They should get 1/3 to 1/2 of whatever Debeers makes!

    • Angela
      March 29, 2010 at 9:24 am

      Actually you are wrong about the school being the province's responsibility. Prior to providing comment, please ensure that you have accurate information. Education is a federal responsibility on First Nations reserves. They provide less funding than the province does.

    • injun
      January 25, 2011 at 2:16 pm

      what do you mean "these people"?, sounds like white bigitry talk to me!

  • Angela
    March 29, 2010 at 9:25 am

    my first post was for Janet. @ Ahni, I completely agree.


  • Jacob
    February 17, 2011 at 7:36 am

    First of all. Why Blockade the Winter Road when the winter season is almost over? After the ice is gone, what then? What are they gonna blockade? and how will they negotiate? I think if the people really want to see results, they must get to "the root of the problem". They will need to take Drastic Measures to get Drastic Changes. They will need to Shut the Mine down Completely. And say, "No More!!". No More being taking advantage of, No More getting the small piece of the "Pie", No More Letting the Rich get Richer.


  • Connor
    March 24, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    I've been researching this issue quite a bit lately and I can't say I understand fully, but here's what I've got. The former Attawapiskat Chief Mike Carpenter said, “DeBeers Canada’s diamond mine is the first and only opportunity our community has ever had to break free of our soul-destroying poverty” ( It seems to me like De Beer's is creating jobs that weren't there before. That can't be a bad thing. Also, it doesn't seem like a mining company's responsibility to make a school. And in fact, INAC has funded plenty of money to Attawapiskat since 1996 ( It's also worth noting that De Beer's provided trailers for some of the people of Attawapiskat when they were evacuated from their homes due to the wastewater backup in July 2009. To reiterate, I can't say I understand fully, but it appears that De Beer's has been quite generous and has gone beyond what a mining company would normally do.
    Lastly, I have a question. When was it the wealthy's job to accomodate to the poor? Does that imply that the poor can't help themselves? There is always an option for a better life. In this case, the option isn't necessarily desirable, because it involves moving. But most people seem to forget that a couple hundred years ago, our great great great (etc) grandparents gave up their land in Europe to start anew in Canada. They left their home in the hope that their children for generations afterward would lead better lives. Why can't the people of Attawapiskat do the same? I understand one's attachment to land, but sometimes we must make sacrifices. A better quality of life for these people is within reach, but no one is going to reach for them. They have to stand up and do it themselves, the same way the rest of Canada has.


  • March 25, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Thank you for commenting, Connor.

    It's true that De Beers could help Attawapiskat financially (by providing an annual stipend and a couple hundred jobs to the community), but it's chump change by any serious measure.

    The mine is going to bring an estimated $6.7 billion to Ontario's economy; but Attawapiskat would only get a small fraction of that. And the jobs we're talking about, aren't high-paying jobs as Mike Koostachin notes in this interview. They would be
    "low positions, like sweeping the floor, doing dishes." On top of that, those jobs would only last as long as the mine was operating.

    In other words, as soon as De Beers is done ransacking the land, every job would disappear and Attawapiskat would be back to square one.

    In my view, Attawapiskat should get at least 50% of that $6.7 billion - and a majority share in the mine, since it is on their land, which means they're carrying all the risk.

    Case in point: when the mine does finally close, the community will have a gaping hole on their territory that will permanently degrade their traditional way of life and their culture.

    There is also a concern with mercury. As Mike points out, "The mining is in the swamp and the moss acts like a filtration system for heavy metals when the rain falls and goes into the river. The moss is being picked up and the swamp is drained and bypassed over to the river. The mercury was in the moss. The moss was removed in the strip mines, resulting in heavy mercury contamination in our rivers. A million tons of water a day, flowing from the swamp to the river. So mercury is leaching into the river. "

    For an isolated community like Attawapiskat (really, all indigenous communities), "cash" isn't enough because cash runs out. And if the project ends up creating more burden than benefit, what's the point?

    As for the school, you're right, De Beers doesn't have an obligation to provide a new one; but, the company has gone out of its way to make itself look like it's a friend and ally to the Cree community. So, the request for school is, shall we say, a test of that friendship. Will De Beers put its money where its mouth is? Are they really there to benefit the community? Or are they just sweet talking them to get what they want and then get out? I think we all know the answer to that one.

    But most people seem to forget that a couple hundred years ago, our great great great (etc) grandparents gave up their land in Europe to start anew in Canada.

    Honestly, Connor. I know you had good intentions saying that, but I don't think you could be more insulting. You're basically telling Attawapiskat to forfeit their culture, their land rights and their history so they can get some jobs at McDonalds. That's like telling you to abandon your house and everything you own for a small shack in the corner of your neighbour's back yard.

    Canada already forced us to do that. And now? Well, times are tough; but some things just aren't worth giving up. That's why so many road blocks are taking place across the country. We don't want to leave our land, Connor, any more than you want to abandon your house.

    What we want is to live in perpetuity, with a sustainable economy, as our own people, on the land of our ancestors.

    It's a monumental task--and some people still don't see it-- but that's what we're striving for... that is, no thanks to Canada's ongoing war of attrition, which keeps nearly every reserve in poverty (while dazzling leaders with hardy handshakes and great big smiles so they will sell out their people).

    It's the same thing that the Europeans did to the people of Africa, what so many African leaders now do freely, as if they thought of it.


Leave a Response