Attawapiskat chief hopeful in face of DeBeers diamond mine shut down
Chief estimates that 100 workers from the remote community are employed by the mining giant
The chief of Attawapiskat says the closing of the nearby Victor diamond mine will have a big impact on his community.
DeBeers announced this week that the province's only diamond mine will close in early 2019, taking 500 jobs with it.
Chief Ignace Gull says about 100 of those workers are from Attwapiskat.
"I don't know what's going to happen," Gull said. "Hopefully another mine will be opened. That's the hope we have, because without employment, without opportunities, we're back to square one."
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Strictly an economic decision
Tom Ormsby, DeBeers' head of external and corporate affairs, said the company tried everything it could to keep the mine running.
"With all the studies, all the options we put on the table, right now there's nothing economical, nothing that says beyond the end of the current pit...there's nothing were' going to be able to do," Ormsby said. "So we'll move on to full closure."
There has been some opposition to the diamond mine in Attawapiskat since it opened in 2008, with occasional protests and road blockades.
But Gull doesn't feel that was a factor in the decision to shut it down.
"We tried to work with DeBeers, did the best we can to accommodate their needs," Gull said. " It's more the economic factors for a mine to open up."
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DeBeers takes lion's share of winter road costs
The mining company gives the First Nation $2 million dollars every year through its impact benefit agreement, and covers about 90 per cent of the $7 million it costs to maintain the James Bay ice road, Gull said.
That's funding that won't be easy to replace.
"Without a good road that brings in goods...it's going to impact the community in a negative way," he said. "Additional revenue's not coming in from anywhere else except government."
Despite the bad news, Gull said there's still prospects at other sites.
"I'm very hopeful what's happening up the Attawapiskat River with the exploration going on that another mine will open some day," he said. "Hopefully things will be good in a few years."
Ormsby thinks the area might have to plan for a future without diamond mines.
"There's actually 15 kimberlites [in the area] that contain diamonds, but none the size of Victor," he said. "As we run the numbers, we just know there's just not the economic return...they're not going to generate any income."