Rapaport Magazine

Environmental Conflict

Letter to Editor

By Rapaport
RAPAPORT... To the Editor,

This holiday season, when more diamonds are sold in America (United States) than any other time of the year, the Hollywood movie “Blood Diamond” is causing many people to reevaluate purchasing “conflict diamonds.”

They will be looking to buy diamonds from other places in the world where responsible companies are treating local people and the environment fairly and responsibly.

And mining companies will be trying to sell them diamonds from Canada.

Unfortunately, many Canadian diamonds are anything but conflict free; ongoing aboriginal rights and environmental concerns should make consumers think twice before purchasing a Canadian diamond, too.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which means the people and the land, represents some 45,000 Cree and Ojibway people scattered across 49 communities in Canada’s Boreal Forest — the world’s largest intact ecosystem and Earth’s last line of defense against global warming.

At 1.4 billion acres, the Canadian Boreal Forest is one of the largest unspoiled forest ecosystems remaining on Earth, a mosaic of interconnected forest and wetland ecosystems, teeming with birds, fish, plants and animal life. Canada’s Boreal Forest is also a potential treasure chest of timber, oil and gas and minerals, including diamonds, and is under heavy development pressure.

At present, less than 10 percent of the Boreal is protected from industrial development.

Unless something changes, corporations will carve it up without regard to the impact on the people or the environment. While few Americans have ever heard of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation or the Boreal Forest, scientists will tell them what the people that live there already know: It is critical to the Earth in so many ways, and must be protected.

The Nishnawbe Aski Nation, along with many other First Nation communities throughout the great Boreal Forest, has been in the grip of a diamond exploration boom led by companies like De Beers. That and other intensive resource development is causing environmental devastation. A complicit Canadian government seems to be turning a blind eye.

We need and welcome responsible resource development, but with an emphasis on the word responsible.

The Nishnawbe Aski Nation communities are among the poorest in the world, ranked 69th in the U.N.’s Human Development Index, with the lowest life expectancy in Canada, the highest youth suicide rates in the world and an unemployment rate of more than 60 percent. With diamonds on our lands, our communities should be wealthy.

Instead, the hunt for theses rare gems from the heart of the Earth has meant only conflict and strife for us. De Beers plans to develop massive open-pit diamond mining projects in our traditional territory, but it is not honoring our treaty rights or working with us to win our consent for the projects.

Their army of airplanes, helicopters and claim-stakers has been trespassing on the traditional lands of many of our communities, despite our calls for moratoriums on diamond exploration. The link between diamond exploration and Aboriginal and treaty rights violations fits the pattern of diamond conflicts in Africa.

In those former European colonies, the scramble for control of diamond mining territory has helped to fuel a cycle of conflict. Will the cycle be repeated in our lands, too?

Before they can claim to have done the right thing in Canada, De Beers and other Canadian diamond mining companies must demonstrate a different attitude and pattern of behavior.

They must allow us to determine where, when and how diamond mining will take place, if at all. They must also work with us and the Canadian governments to protect the great Boreal Forest ecosystem and make sure it continues to provide clean air, clean water and abundant wildlife for our communities and for the world.

The battle over diamonds will be largely fought in the United States, where annual sales of diamond jewelry represent almost half of the $55 billion sold worldwide. The time is now for consumers in the United States to connect the dots and weigh in.

Tell De Beers, other diamond miners and Canada that unless things change, Canadian diamonds are no better than conflict diamonds from Africa.

Alvin Fiddler
Deputy Grand Chief
Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Note: The Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) has written to actor Leonardo DiCaprio seeking support for the group’s movement against diamond exploration, development and mining and to protect Ontario’s Boreal Forest. “One of the largest and current threats to these communities and their livelihood is diamond mining,” the group wrote in the letter. “We ... are writing to ask that you consider being a spokesperson for the indigenous communities whose way of life is being threatened by De Beers diamond activity in Canada, and for this ecological jewel.”

As of press time, the NAN had not received a response from DiCaprio or his publicist.

De Beers Response:
De Beers contributes to sustainable communities and economies wherever we operate and we are proud of the relationships we have developed in the countries where we produce diamonds.

We believe that meaningful consultation is required to develop mutual trust and long-term cooperative relationships with Aboriginal communities. We prioritize communication and consultation with communities throughout the life cycle of our diamond projects.

De Beers has signed a range of agreements with Aboriginal communities across Canada, including Nishnawbe Aski Nation communities, which cover early and advanced exploration, mine construction and production. These agreements set out the work to be undertaken, our environmental and cultural commitments as well as how communities can participate in, and benefit from, our projects.

De Beers is fully committed to the highest environmental standards, and to this end, we have received ISO 140001 certification for the environmental management systems at all of our projects and operations in Canada. Our Snap Lake and Victor projects have undergone very thorough environmental assessment processes that included extensive community consultation.

The input we received during the consultation with local Aboriginal communities, particularly in the area of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, has resulted in improvements in our mine designs. Our contribution to communities goes beyond that which is set out in agreements. In Canada, over the last three years, De Beers has contributed over $2 million in social investment with a focus on Aboriginal literacy, education and training — all of this before we have started production in Canada.

Over the last four years, we have spent over $300,000 to provide 19,000 new books to schoolchildren in remote Aboriginal communities. In addition, we are investing $500,000 over five years in the Lieutenant Governor’s Aboriginal Literacy Summer Camps in Northern Ontario.

We have built an $800,000 training center in Attawapiskat in Northern Ontario, which is being used to ensure that the people of this community are well prepared for the employment opportunities offered by the Victor Mine. In the Northwest Territories, we provided $500,000 for the initial development of the Kimberlite Career and Technical Centre in Yellowknife and we have partnered with our contractors at the Snap Lake project to provide a further $750,000 for the expansion of this successful training center.

“We see local Aboriginal communities as vital partners in any mining project we develop. To this end, we are committed to working with communities to maximize opportunities for local employment and the development of local Aboriginal businesses as suppliers and contractors to our mining projects,” said Jim Gowans, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of De Beers Canada Inc.

From exploration through production, the diamond industry is bringing employment and economic growth, training and education, and business opportunities for remote Aboriginal communities in Canada. De Beers will continue to live up to the highest ethical and business principles in its dealings with Aboriginal peoples and all levels of government in Canada.
Diamonds are Forever. Diamonds are for Good.

Linda Dorrington

Manager, Public and Corporate Affairs

De Beers Canada Inc.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - January 2007. To subscribe click here.

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