April 15, 2016

De Beers' Colonial Plunder in Attawapiskat

Jay Watts

In 1995, a report issued as part of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples called suicide “one of the most urgent problems facing aboriginal communities." 22 years later, Canada’s ongoing colonial project is still taking a staggering and gruesome toll on the health and lives of First Nations. In Attawapiskat, a community of close to 2,000, there were 11 suicide attempts last Saturday, on top of 100 suicide attempts since last September.

In response to such events there has been mobilization. In Toronto, Idle No More and Black Lives Matter have responded with an occupation of an Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada office; in Ottawa people are marching from Parliament Hill to INAC in Gatineau; while other INAC offices are being occupied in Winnipeg, Regina and James Bay.

But recent events in Attawapiskat are not simply a generalized response to decades and decades of Canadian colonialism - the specifics of Canadian colonialism in Attawapiskat are damning, too… Attawapiskat is 90km from the open-pit Victor Diamond Mine, where multinational diamond company De Beers, founded by the British imperialist and white supremacist Cecil Rhodes, has managed to work out an astonishingly preferential agreement to plunder the resource wealth of the Attawapiskat First Nation with the complicity of the Ontario and Canadian governments. The mine itself is on lands taken from Attawapiskat First Nation through an extension of Treaty 9 in 1930.
DeBeers' new luxury retail location in Vancover
 Figures are hard to come by, but according to the company’s own report in 2010, De Beers didn’t pay corporate, federal or provincial taxes as “the company was in a loss position for tax purposes."  In 2015, investigative reporting by CBC found out that De Beer's had pulled $2.5 billion worth of diamonds from the Victor mine since opening, and was paying almost nothing in royalties. In 2014 alone, De Beers pulled $392 million of diamonds from Victor Lake mine but only paid the Ontario government $226 in royalties. The Cree Community of Attawapiskat received none of the (pitifully small) royalties.

Housing in Attawapiskat
Even before the diamonds started to flow to De Beers, a poorly reported event (covered only by APTN) occurred in Attawapiskat that helped spur the housing crisis that would lead to Chief Theresa Spence's hunger strike which galvanized the Idle No More movement in 2012.  In March of 2005, De Beers secretly dumped a load of sewage into Attawapiskat’s pumping station. The sewage system, ill-suited to deal with the overload, backed up and caused considerable damage to houses throughout Attawapiskat. Ontario First Nations Technical Services investigated and thought De Beers a likely suspect, but the company denied any knowledge of the event.

So when De Beers closes Victor Mine and eventually leaves Attawapiskat territory in 2018, what will be the final tally in dollars, and what will the impact be on human lives? Billions of dollars in diamonds squeezed from the Āhtawāpiskatowi ininiwak land, a pittance in royalties paid out to the provincial government, and a river of shit from De Beers overwhelming Attawapiskat's sewage system and ruining homes.

1 comment:

  1. Worse than criminal. Why isn't this front page news going along-side the stories of the suicide epidemic? Where is our moral conscience as a nation?