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Chief Theresa Spence calls meeting to discuss blockade on road to diamond mine

ATTAWAPISKAT, Ont. - Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has called a band council meeting for Thursday to discuss a blockade on a winter road leading to a De Beers diamond mine.

De Beers Canada says a group of residents of the remote northern Ontario reserve set up the blockade on Monday on a road the company uses to move in supplies like fuel, machine parts and equipment that would be too heavy to fly in.

De Beers and Attawapiskat band officials met with the blockaders on Tuesday afternoon.

Aboriginal Peoples Television Network reports one of the band officials involved in talks is Danny Metatawabin, who was Spence's spokesman during her recent hunger protest in Ottawa.

De Beers spokesman Tom Ormsby says the blockade has not yet impacted the mine's operations, but has forced De Beers to cease operations on the road.

The mine 90 kilometres west of Attawapiskat has a large aboriginal workforce, but First Nation has complained that its share of the bounty from the mine isn't getting back to the community.

A federal review of the relationship between De Beers' Victor mine and Attawapiskat showed that government support for training and capacity did not start soon enough to deal with the huge lack of skills in the First Nation.

Attawapiskat Deputy Chief Gerald Mattanais told APTN he believes the blockade was launched over specific and personal reasons primarily over things like employment.

"In the past, some people lost employment at Victor and others were recently fired and others did not respond to their obligations," said Mattanais.

A lengthy blockade could have a detrimental impact on Attawapiskat because some in the community work as sub-contractors for the mine and depend on the road for work, Mattanais said.

"Sub-contractors we have from our community can't even go to work on their road. It is affecting everyone," he said.

Ormsby said De Beers has an annual resupply program to deliver non-perishable items such as oil and new equipment to the mine over the ice road.

"Our program is usually about 30 days in duration, while the road itself is usually open several weeks longer than our needs," Ormsby said Tuesday in an email.

"Supplying the mine is a year-round exercise by air, but we save the bulk of the program for the winter road because it is the most cost-effective way to deliver these larger and predictable items," he said.

(APTN, The Canadian Press)


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