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Industry, First Nations allies with shared vision (11/01)

By Marla Tomlinson In the James Bay lowlands there is a partnership in the works.

By Marla Tomlinson

In the James Bay lowlands there is a partnership in the works. For the past three years De Beers Canada and the Attawapiskat First Nation have forged a relationship based on communication, says Jocelyn Fraser, a senior adviser in public affairs for De Beers.

De Beers discovered a number of diamondiferous kimberlites in 1999 in an area located 90 kilometres west of the town of Attawapiskat. The company extracted a bulk sample from the largest of the kimberlites, which is now called the Victor Project. Samples were processed at an on-site treatment and recovery plant and a team of mining engineers is currently working on a feasibility study to be presented later this year.

"In 1999 (De Beers) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Attiwapiskat First Nation," Fraser says. "With any of our mines, from the very early stages on, we like to let area First Nations know what we are doing so we can build a mutual trust and respect as we move on with the projects."

The memorandum of understanding included a commitment by both parties to work together to protect the local environment, to hire local people wherever possible, as well as to keep the line of communication open, she says.

To keep the communication open between the community and the mining company, Mike Gull, an Attawapiskat community member, was hired as the liaison co-ordinator for the Victor Project. He says the community and De Beers have a good working relationship, and that working together on a project like this is the only way to get things done.

"We need to keep the communication going so everybody understands what is going on," Gull says. "This affects the traditional land of community members, so we meet regularly to review what is happening and talk about any issues that have come up."

In addition to the public meetings, Gull says De Beers produced a newsletter which addresses issues brought up at these meetings, and also keeps the Attiwapiskat First Nations aware of what stage the company is at.

Not only is De Beers concerned with keeping the communication flowing, but they also try to hire from the community as often as possible, Fraser says. Over the winter of 2000, a crew of about 60 people worked on-site completing the drilling program. Approximately 25 of the crew members came from Attawapiskat and worked in jobs such as drill helpers, environmental technicians, office administration and food preparation. The summer crew of about 55 employed 25 townspeople.

Fraser says the company is at least five to six years away from opening a mine, if it is decided it will be viable. However, with this in mind, De Beers is keeping community members appraised of the possible jobs that might become available, as well as spinoff businesses necessary for a mining community, such as kitchen services.

De Beers is talking to the youth in the community as well, because if a mine opens, the youth will be among the people ready to start on careers, she says.

Both Gull and Fraser say the relationship De Beers and the Attiwapiskat First Nation have developed is

based on mutual trust and understanding, and also serves as a model for other First Nations and mining companies who may wish to create a partnership.