De Beers Canada Victor Mine Creates Enormous Opportunities for Northern Ontario First Nations

This article was provided by the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), an organization that was established in 1920 to represent the mining industry of the province.

 Ontario Mining Association member De Beers Canada’s Victor diamond mine is a sparkling example of promoting Aboriginal employment.  The Victor diamond mine, which is located about 90 kilometres west of Attawapiskat in the James Bay lowlands, currently has 226 employees from First Nations, or 43% of its workforce.

More than 90 employees from this group are from Attawapiskat with large representation from Fort Albany, Moosonee and Moose Factory and Kashechewan and 40 are from First Nations outside the James Bay area.  In Canada, mining is the largest private sector employer of Aboriginals.  This group comprises 7.5% of the mining workforce, which is up from 3.6% of the country’s total mineral sector workforce in 2006.

The Victor Mine operates with three different impact-benefit agreements – one each with Attawapiskat, Fort Albany/Kashechewan and Moose Factory/Moosonee.  “Negotiating the impact-benefit agreement is the relatively easy bit, implementing it is the tough part and making sure everyone understands their role is more difficult,” said Jonathan Fowler, De Beers Canada Vice President Aboriginal Affairs and Sustainability. 

“One of our strengths is in striving to build a culture of diversity,” he added.  “We don’t believe in a having a specific percentage of First Nation employment.  We want to provide opportunities for people to grow and develop and the real target is to maximize First Nation employment.”

At the Victor site, which is situated 1,070 kilometres north of Toronto, signs are bilingual – Cree and English.  There is a traditional tepee on site, which is not only used by First Nations employees but also as a venue for cross cultural awareness.  Every employee and contractor on site are given cultural awareness sessions.  Not only are Cree and English language lessons provided but the mine holds translation workshops for key words and phrases to improve communication in both official languages at the mine.

“I think the strength of De Beers Canada is in the training it offers and the on the job development,” said Shannin Metatawabin, Manager Aboriginal Affairs and Sustainability for De Beers Canada at the Victor Mine.  “We have done road shows to coastal communities about employment opportunities and in the area of new opportunities, currently we have 12 First Nations people working as processing plant apprentices and eight summer students on site.”

“There is an ability for people to move around to different jobs and Victor has demonstrated to local First Nations young people that there is a genuine opportunity at the mine and a benefit to them finishing high school and getting post secondary training,” added Mr. Metatawabin.  “We want to create sustainability and a positive legacy for the mine.  You have to be able to make a difference in the community.  It is not only corporate good will but it also makes business sense.”

Mr. Metatawabin is originally from Fort Albany.  He went to high school in North Bay and graduated from Carleton University in Ottawa.  He sees the De Beers Canada’s investment in the Victor Mine as a huge opportunity to benefit the entire region.

The opportunities offered at the Victor Mine extend beyond skills development and employment.  The mine also creates entrepreneurial opportunities for local First Nations residents.  In 2009, Victor Mine spent $121 million on goods and services and $39 million, or 32% of that total, was supplied by Aboriginal businesses.

 “Our aim is to make profits but to do so in a way that makes a positive and lasting contribution to the communities in which we operate.” — Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, former De Beers chairman, in 1954.