Attawapiskat chief hopeful in face of DeBeers diamond mine shut down

The chief of Attawapiskat says the closing of the nearby Victor diamond mine will have a big impact on his community.

Chief estimates that 100 workers from the remote community are employed by the mining giant

Ignace Gull, Chief of Attawapiskat, says he's unsure of impact the DeBeers Victor Mine closure will have on his community, but he expects it to be significant. (Ignace Gull/Facebook)

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."

The De Beers sign stands outside the Victor Mine, north of Attawapiskat, Ont. (Rita Celli/CBC)

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."

Tom Ormsby, a De Beers Canada spokesperson, says the company looked at all options to keep Victor Mine open past 2018.

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'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."