Members of both Iskatewizaagegan First Nation (Shoal Lake 39) and Shoal Lake 40 come together to blockade the TransCanada Highway
Credits: JON THOMPSON/QMI AGENCY
The small Native protest that's blocked access to De Beers' northern Ontario diamond mine since Monday night could continue into spring, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence told APTN.
The blockade could also expand and prevent access to the mine's airport before it's through, she said Wednesday.
Spence appears to have waded back into controversy once again, speaking to the network on behalf of the 16 or so protesters who are camped out on the winter supply road near the Victor diamond mine, about 90 km outside of her community.
She confirmed the protesters' issues relate to employment at the mine and training opportunities, but also added there are "things that we are discovering" about the impact-benefit agreement (IBA) the community signed with De Beers years ago to allow the mine on reserve land.
"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.
Even so, some in Attawapiskat say only some community members are actually benefiting. And discrimination and racism at the mine are also among the reasons Spence said she was given for the protest.
One of the 16 or so protesters told APTN his issue is with the mine doing exploration work on his family's traditional trapline.
De Beers said Wednesday it met with several members of the community to talk about reasons for the blockade.
"We have local management from the mine meeting with those involved and we even participated in an open community meeting," Tom Ormsby, director of external and corporate affairs for De Beers Canada, said Wednesday.
He said the blockade has not yet impacted the mine's operations, but could if it stretches on.
-- with files from Ron Grech