Attawapiskat First Nation — an isolated Northern Ontario reserve — played a prominent role in the Idle No More indigenous protest movement that erupted in 2012. Then Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence complained to the media about unacceptable housing conditions on her reserve. The movement was energized by Chief Spence’s decision to declare a hunger strike to raise awareness of the ongoing First Nation housing and infrastructure crises.
Attawapiskat’s band council was subjected to a government-commissioned audit in 2012 that found little proper documentation for millions of dollars spent by the band government.
Attawapiskat has largely fallen out of the news. But, a few weeks ago, diamond producer De Beers announced it was shelving plans for an expansion of a diamond mine located nearby. The company had planned to draw five or six more years of production from the mine. However, without Attawapiskat support, the company will not proceed.
During Idle No More, Attawapiskat leaders complained about the relationship between the community and De Beers, publicly criticizing its impact and benefits agreement as insufficient for community needs. However, the solution is to seek a better agreement, not to stop production at the mine.
Attawapiskat would certainly benefit from mine activity, which would help pay for much needed housing. The chief and band councilors are ignoring opportunities right under their noses. Attawapiskat is emblematic of so many First Nations that need the money and jobs that come with developing resource partnerships yet decline these opportunities.
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