Cree woman dying of cancer last one standing on Attawapiskat diamond mine blockade – by Jorge Barrera (APTN National News – February 16, 2013)

ATTAWAPISKAT– Inside the wood stove-warmed canvas tent beside the barricades on the ice road leading to the De Beers diamond mine, Rebecca Iahtail says she’s dying from cancer. There are several women sitting around Iahtail, three men, including Iahtail’s partner Noah, at the tent’s entrance. The conversation is almost totally in Cree.

Spruce boughs and canvas are used as ground cover. Inside the tent a single candle burns next to an ashtray and an empty coffee cup. The flame glints softly off Iahtail’s glasses, her round face half shadow, half glow.

The wood stove pops and hisses. The tinny sound of a pop tune can be heard coming from the headphones of a teenage girl. It’s Friday night in Attawapiskat, day six of the blockade is about to come to an end.

Exhaust fumes, illuminated by headlights, float across the ice road. Tail lights streak through the darkness. A number of SUVs and pick-up trucks are buzzing between the barricades and the community, which is a couple of kilometres away.

The news that De Beers obtained a court injunction to break the blockade has triggered rumours of impending arrests by the OPP. Iahtail says she has colon cancer and was given three years left to live. A mother to an 11 year-old son who is in Moose Factory at a hockey tournament, Iahtail says her impending death is part of the reason why she’s decided to stay until the end.

“I got to do something,” says Iahtail. “I know I don’t have much time left.”

She’s the last of the original blockaders.

The other men involved decided to step down after a meeting late Friday afternoon with Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and her band council.

They were handed a letter asking them to stop the blockade because De Beers planned to launch an $130 million lawsuit against each of them.

“Chief and council understand your frustration with De Beers in not dealing with your grievance matter,” says the letter, signed by Spence. “However, we cannot endorse any actions that prevent De Beers from operating its mine pursuant to our Impact Benefit Agreement.”

The Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA) is at the root of the current blockade, the second one in as many weeks.

The community members involved say the IBA agreement is bad for Attawapiskat and doesn’t give the community enough for the use of the diamond riches on their traditional territory.

Inside the tent, Danny Metatawabin, the IBA coordinator, uses his gloves to outline the Victor mine site and points out De Beers is also looking to exploit another area called “Tango.”

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