The PDAC Environmental and Social Responsibility Award recognizes an individual or organization demonstrating outstanding initiative, leadership and accomplishment in protecting and preserving the natural environment or in developing good community relations during an exploration program or operation of a mine.
De Beers Canada is recognized for establishing good community relations and ensuring environmental protection at its two diamond mines in Canada.
The company operates Snap Lake in the Northwest Territories and Victor in northern Ontario with about 850 full-time employees, and another 50 part-time and seasonal workers.
About 40% of Victor and one-quarter of Snap Lake employees are aboriginal.
Aboriginal communities are represented by four separate Impact Benefit Agreements at Snap Lake; three Impact Benefit Agreements and a Working Relationship Agreement are in place with the communities surrounding Victor.
The agreements were signed after lengthy consultations with aboriginal leaders and ensure that northern communities and their aboriginal residents directly benefit from diamond mining.
Even before mining started, the company was investing in northern communities. During three years of construction at Victor mine, roughly $185 million of the $745 million spent on goods and services was supplied by aboriginal businesses.
At the same time, the company was engaging local communities in the Northwest Territories, while building the Snap Lake mine.
During the Snap Lake construction, aboriginal businesses accounted for almost half of the nearly $1 billion spent on building contracts. In 2008, with Snap Lake in production, operations contracts with aboriginal businesses totaled more than $132 million or about 60% of operations spending.
At a grassroots level, in 2006 De Beers Canada spearheaded a $1.5-million expansion of the Kimberlite Career and Technical Centre, which introduces high school students to careers in skilled trades. The company had helped build the original centre with a commitment of $500,000. De Beers Canada later built a similar centre in Attawapiskat.
The company’s commitment to Canadian Aboriginal Peoples and sustainability goes beyond money.
From the time a shovel first broke ground, the British Standards Institute has audited De Beers. The Environmental Management Systems at both of its Canadian mines are certified to the ISO14001 (2004) standard.
The company maintained certification throughout construction of both massive diamond projects, a feat thought to be a unique achievement in Canada, if not the world.
The environment and health and safety remain top priorities. Any environmental near misses and accidents are reported to management through the De Beers Canada Incident Management System, which helps identify trends, as well as track and analyze corrective and preventive measures.
“Everyone is supporting each other. We have people reporting a litre of diesel spilled in a muck pile and then cleaning it up. It’s gone from being environmental compliance to being part of our culture,” says Jim Gowans, president and CEO of De Beers.
The environment is protected further through the Snap Lake Environmental Monitoring Agency (SLEMA), a partnership between De Beers Canada, the federal and territorial governments, and affected aboriginal groups.
These include the Tlicho government, Lutsel K’e Dene and Yellowknives Dene First Nations and the North Slave Metis Alliance.
SLEMA’s board includes eight aboriginal members, two from each group, and strives to involve aboriginal traditional knowledge and conventional science in its assessment of the impact of mining activities on the environment.
One way this is done involves catching, cooking and eating fish caught from Snap Lake. Each year, community elders and company employees feast together on an island near the mine.
The company also established “Education Is Forever”, a program that supports child literacy in local communities.
Each year De Beers Canada employees visit aboriginal students in nearby communities and help them choose three or four books that are school board approved, age appropriate and often have aboriginal content. To date, more than 50,000 books have been distributed.
In an effort to foster the spirit of community, De Beers supplied the materials for an aboriginal teepee at the Victor mine. Aboriginal employees built the giant tent, which often hosts cultural ceremonies.
In the spring of 2009, De Beers came to the aid of Attawapiskat residents when sewers backed up, destroying about a dozen homes and displacing 150 people. De Beers spend more than $1 million mobilizing and building enough lodging to house the displaced.
For De Beers Canada, it was another investment in community building and a demonstration of the company’s long-term commitment to Aboriginal Peoples.