Canada’s Diamond Conflict
The use of popular culture to spur political debate always stirs strong emotions. People have been taking sides since the recent release of the movie “Blood Diamond” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The movie is set in 1999 during Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war. DiCaprio plays a ruthless trader who sells arms for diamonds. 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; ongoing 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 [impact benefit agreement]: education and training, contracting and employment preferences, environmental monitoring and guarantees, and financial benefits.”