Enter DeBeers, the largest diamond mining enterprise in the world. The company moved into northern Ontario in 2006 . The Victor Mine reached commercial production in 2008 and was voted “Mine of the Year” by the readers of the international trade publication Mining Magazine. The company states it is “is committed to sustainable development in local communities.” This is good to know. This is also where the first world meets the third world in the north, as Canadian MP Bob Rae discovered last year on his tour of the rather destitute conditions of the village. Infrastructure in the Sub Arctic is in short supply. There is no road into the village eight months of the year, four months a year, during freeze up , there’s an ice road. A diamond mine needs a lot of infrastructure. And that has to be shipped in, so the trucks launch out of Moosonee, Ontario. Then, they build a better road. The problem is that the road won’t work when the climate changes, and already stretched infrastructure gets tapped out.
There is some money flowing in, that’s sure. A 2010 report from DeBeers states that payments to eight communities associated with its two mines in Canada totalled $5,231,000 that year. Forbes Magazine reports record diamond sales by the world’s largest diamond company “… increased 33 percent, year-over-year, to $3.5 billion….The mining giant, which produces more than a third of the world’s rough diamonds, also reported record EBITDA of almost $1.2 billion, a 55 percent increase over the first the first half of 2010.”
As the Canadian Mining Watch group notes “Whatever Attawapiskat’s share of that $5-million is, given the chronic under-funding of the community, the need for expensive responses to deal with recurring crises, including one that DeBeers themselves may have precipitated by overloading the community’s sewage system, it’s not surprising that the community hasn’t been able to translate its … income into improvements in physical infrastructure.” Last year, Attawapiskat drew international attention , when many families in the Cree community were living in tents.
The neighboring Kaschewan Village is in similar disarray. They have been boiling water, and importing water. The village almost had a complete evacuation due to health conditions, and , “ … fuel shortages are becoming more common among remote northern Ontario communities right now,” Alvin Fiddler, Deputy Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a regional advocacy network explained to a reporter. That’s because the ice road used to truck in a year’s supply of diesel last winter did not last as long as usual. “Everybody is running out now. We’re looking at a two-month gap” until this winter’s ice road is solid enough to truck in fresh supplies, Mr. Fiddler said in an interview.Kashechewan’s chief and council are poised to shut down the band office, two schools, the power generation centre, the health clinic and the fire hall because the buildings were not heated and could no longer operate safely. “ In addition some 21 homes had become uninhabitable,” according to Chief Derek Stephen . Those basements had been flooded last spring, as the weather patterns changed. Just as a side note, in 2007, some 21 Cree youth from Kashechewan attempted to commit suicide, and the Canadian aboriginal youth suicide rate is five times the national average. Both communities are beneficiaries of an agreement with DeBeers.