Disputes over the value of Attawapiskat's nearby diamond mine provide a lesson for other First Nations considering mining deals, according to the Assembly of First Nations’ Ontario Regional Chief.
"It’s a learning tool and we have to learn from that," Stan Beardy said. "But going to the future, I think we need to look at what is fair, what is adequate and what is reasonable."
Members of Attawapiskat First Nation erected another blockade this week on the road to the mine.
According to the First Nation’s trust fund documents, Attawapiskat receives about $2 million annually from De Beers as a royalty.
Based on information available on the company’s website, the annual revenue of De Beers’ diamond production at its Victor Mine near Attawapiskat is about $400 million.
That puts Attawapiskat’s royalty at about 0.5 per cent of revenues.
But the company’s contributions to the First Nation economy go beyond that, said De Beers spokesperson Tom Ormsby.
Training, employment and business contracts add up, he said, and there are other spin-offs from all that business activity in the community.
"Attawapiskat now has cell service, none of the other [James Bay] coastal communities have it at the level Attawapiskat has it," Ormsby said. "That’s the level of their business growth."
A so-called Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA) between Attawapiskat and De Beers set out the terms of the deal between the First Nation and the multi-national corporation.
As more and more mining companies look to do business in northern Ontario, Beardy said First Nations want to move beyond IBAs.
"When we talk about IBAs with the mining companies, we’re talking about compensation for being displaced from your traditional homelands," Beardy said. "That’s not really sharing the wealth."
IBAs are just one part of a relationship that could help new mines go ahead in the north, Beardy said. Resource-revenue sharing is another one — and that’s the responsibility of government, he added.
"What we want is some enabling legislation by the government ... to look at how ... First Nations [can] share the wealth with the settlers."