The use of popular culture to spur political debate always stirs strong emotions. People have been taking sides since the release of the movie “Blood Diamond” starring Leonardo DiCaprio last month. The movie is set in 1999 during Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war. DiCaprio plays a ruthless man who trades diamonds for arms. He is forced to re-examine his conscience when he agrees to help a black fisherman (played by Djimon Hounsou) whose family has been swept up in the violence. At stake is a rare pink diamond with which the fisherman hopes to secure a peaceful future for his family.
My informal movie reviewer said “Blood Diamond” is a powerful movie filled with graphic violence. No wonder it has caught the attention of both the public and the diamond industry. North American viewers must be overwhelmed by the brutal portrayal of African life less than 10 years ago. The public relations effort for the movie pointed out that, since the Kimberley Process was initiated (in 2000), only 0.02% of the diamonds sold can be labelled “conflict” stones. Consumers are aware of the provenance of their gems, and avoid buying diamonds that fund illegal activities.
Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the NISHNAWBE ASKI NATION (NAN) based in Thunder Bay, Ont., has waded into the fray. His opinion, posted Dec. 6, 2006, on Rapaport News (www.Diamonds.net), states, “Unfortunately, many Canadian diamonds are anything but conflict-free; on-going aboriginal rights and environmental concerns should make consumers think twice before purchasing a Canadian diamond, too.
“The hunt for these rare gems from the heart of the Earth has meant only conflict and strife for us. De Beers plans to develop massive open pit diamonds mining projects in our traditional territory [referring to the Victor project], but it is not honouring our treaty rights or working with us to win our consent for the projects,” Fiddler complained.
Is that correct? Are Canadian stones “conflict” diamonds?
Not according to Chief Mike Carpenter of the ATTAWAPISKAT, the nation working closely with DE BEERS CANADA on the development of the Victor project. He responded to Fiddler with a letter dated Dec. 11, 2006, writing that his people have negotiated a landmark impact benefit agreement with the company. “With strong legal representation and the assertion of our rights, Attawapiskat fought strongly with De Beers and both levels of government using our rights to our territory for what we obtained in our IBA: education and training, contracting and employment preferences, environmental monitoring and guarantees, and financial benefits.”
Neither is De Beers Canada silent about Fiddler’s remarks. The company issued a media release on Dec. 21 that stated: “Our position is that the Aboriginal people of Canada, and particularly those within the NAN territory, require immediate economic development opportunities. Resource development can achieve this, as the Attawapiskat First Nation have done with the Victor project.”
I doubt that the struggle for Aboriginal peoples’ right to benefit from resource development is over. But I firmly believe Canadians are leading the way toward ensuring that First Nations will benefit. There are many examples in this country of how to co-operate with First Nations for the betterment of both the Aboriginal community and the mineral industry.
CANALASKA URANIUM has struck a deal with the BLACK LAKE DENESULINE FIRST NATION to explore the band’s territory for uranium, on the northern rim of the Athabasca Basin. The agreement gives CanAlaska a 49% interest in a joint venture should any resources be discovered in return for a minimum expenditure of $2.0 million over four years. The band will also receive CanAlaska shares and cash payments. The agreement also allows for the participation of third parties should a minable deposit be outlined.
The MINING ASSOCIATION OF CANADA (MAC) has drafted a “Framework on Mining and Aboriginal Peoples” requiring its members to respect Aboriginal rights and interests, undertake discussions with them early in the creation of any project, and to negotiate participation agreements (see CMJ, January 2007 issue).
Both CanAlaska’s efforts on an individual scale and MAC’s commitment on behalf of its 25 producing members and 50 associate members are outstanding examples of co-operation that will extend the wealth of Canada’s mineral resources to all stakeholders.