APTN National News
ATTAWAPISKAT–Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has called a band council meeting for Thursday 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, according to a spokesperson for the mining diamond giant.
De Beers and Attawapiskat band officials were meeting with the blockaders on Tuesday afternoon. One of the band officials involved in talks is Danny Metatawabin, who was Spence’s spokesman during her fast in Ottawa. Metatawabin is the coordinator for the impact benefit agreement between De Beers and Attawapiskat.
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.
The mine sits about 90 kilometres west of Attawapiskat and is Ontario’s first diamond mine.
The blockade has as of yet not impacted the mine’s operations, said Tom Ormsby, a De Beers spokesperson. Ormsby said the mine has built in flexibility to its shipping plans that would allow it to continue unimpeded even if the road shut down for a week. He said the mine has about a 45 day window to ship materials up the road, but is prepared for much shorter timelines.
“We always build in a flexible timeline,” said Ormsby. “In the past, we lost a week because water came up over the Albany River…we always try to go short, in case, for whatever reason, there is an interruption.”
APTN National News has been unable to reach any of the individuals involved in the blockade. Cell phone coverage is limited in the area.
Attawapiskat Deputy Chief Gerald Mattanais said he believes the blockade was launched over specific and personal reasons primarily over things like employment.
“In the past, some people lost employment at Victor and others were recently fired and others did not respond to their obligations…Issues like that I keep hearing,” said Mattanais. “I would look at it that way at the present time.”
Mattanais said the blockade would also have a detrimental impact on Attawapiskat if it continues because some in the community work as sub-contractors for the mine and depend on the road for work.
“Sub-contractors we have from our community can’t even go to work on their road. It is affecting everyone, the relationship with one to the other,” he said. “I know people are looking for jobs and if we hold for a week it is going to be big.”
Mattanais said Spence was in the office earlier in the day and asked him to coordinate a meeting on the issue for Thursday.
“We are concerned, I think the leadership is concerned about it,” he said.
De Beers does not transport any of its diamonds over the road and instead flies them south via charter on schedules known only to a few people.
The mine employs at least 100 people from Attawapiskat at any one time. It generates about $400 million in annual revenue for the company. The company has transferred about $10.5 million to a trust fund held by Attawapiskat as of January 2011. The mine began operating in 2008.