ATTAWAPISKAT - The blockade to the De Beers Victor diamond mine ended peacefully late Thursday night.
The blockade was dismantled following discussions between company reps and members of the neighbouring remote First Nation community.
A group of about 16 protesters set up the blockade on Monday. They were camped out on the winter supply road leading to the mine, located about 90 km from Attawapiskat.
The blockade was established to protest issues relating to employment at the mine and training opportunities.
“The resolution to the blockade just outside Attawapiskat First Nation was mainly focused in two areas; employment and training and maximizing the benefits available in the Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA),” said Tom Ormsby, director of external and corporate affairs for De Beers Canada, in a written statement. “Discussions took place on an individual, as well as a collective, level with the community.”
He said the blockade came down at about 7 p.m., and the first supply convoy reached the mine site shortly after 9 p.m.
Discussions regarding the IBA focused on the joint Renewed Relationship Work Group that was formed last July with Attawapiskat First Nation to work through the various chapters in the agreement and maximize the benefits for both sides.
“New or similar issues brought up this week for discussion during the blockade will now be incorporated into the items being reviewed by the Work Group,” he said.
The annual winter road program is the main method of bulk re-supply to the mine and is designed to complement the existing supplies being used at the mine. The program provides the annual predictable and non-perishable supplies for the mine such as lube and oil, camp supplies, spare parts, tires, new equipment and fuel.
Local community businesses are contracted by De Beers to build and maintain the winter road as well as deliver the fuel and freight. Those contracts are worth millions of dollars to local businesses and create hundreds of direct and indirect positions in the local communities each winter.
“We carry out charter flights year round to the mine to transport our employees, replenish perishable items such as food and to bring in emergency spare parts,” Ormsby said. “We save the bulk of the re-supply for the winter road in order to manage costs and ensure economic viability of the operation.”
On Wednesday, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence told APTN the blockade could last into the spring if issues weren't resolved. She said it could also expand and prevent access to the mine's airport.
“The IBA is really not working for us,” Spence told APTN. “If it is going to be reopened, there is going to be (an) impact on certain things. We need to identify those impacts and get some legal advice on this.”
The agreement signed after several years of negotiation includes regular payments to a trust fund for Attawapiskat. Since then, De Beers has also conducted at least $300 million worth of other business with the reserve. About 100 members of the reserve also directly work at the mine.
One of the protesters told APTN his issue is with the mine doing exploration work on his family's traditional trapline.