Attawakpiskat’s De Beers protest ill-directed – by Lorne Gunter (Toronto Sun – February 13, 2013)

On Sunday evening, just three days after an earlier blockade had been lifted, a group of about 12 aboriginal protesters from Attawapiskat, Ont., once again closed the winter road to the De Beers diamond mine 90 km west of the First Nations settlement. De Beers counts on the frozen road to resupply fuel, building materials and heavy equipment for the entire year since the ground around the giant excavation is too soft in summer to permit heavy loads.

This second blockade seems to be the doing a single family — the Edwards. And they claim their grievance with De Beers is over lack of compensation from miners for infringing on the family’s long-time traplines.

But if that’s their complaint, their grievance is with their own leaders at Attawapiskat, not with De Beers.

In late 2005, three years before the mine officially opened, De Beers concluded an “impact benefit agreement” (IBA) with Attawapiskat leaders. The IBA was approved in a referendum by 85% of residents.

Since that time, De Beers has paid money into a trust administered by the band council. The company is currently putting in an average of $3 million annually so the band has money to pay claims of lost livelihood and income from mine activity — precisely like the Edwards family.

But the Attawapiskat council has paid out very little compensation. If the Edwards want to blockade those responsible for lack of compensation, they should be ringing the offices of the band council and Chief Theresa Spence, Canada’s most famous dieter.

This is yet another example of the shoddy management of funds on the Attawapiskat reserve, which, unfortunately, is far from the only reserve in the country with financial problems of its own making. Attawapiskat isn’t even the worst.

Of the 617 reserves in Canada, one-quarter are under federal or third-party management at any one time. Attawapiskat isn’t one of them. So you can guess how bad the ones under administration must be.

Each year the federal government spends nearly $25,000 for every man, woman and child who resides on a reserve and yet around 150 reserves are so in debt they can no longer manage their own affairs.

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