Ontario First Nation aims to stop De Beers landfill plan; Ring of Fire moratorium declared

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The Attawapiskat First Nation is moving to stop diamond mining giant De Beers from developing a landfill site at the Victor Diamond mine site, which is located in the Ring of Fire mining area of Northern Ontario’s James Bay Lowlands.

The announcement comes just days after group of Northern Ontario First Nations, including Attawapiskat, declared a moratorium on development of the Ring of Fire area.

In a joint press release on April 1, 2021, the Attawapiskat, Fort Albany and Neskantaga First Nations said the moratorium should remain in effect until the Canadian and Ontario governments agree to conduct a Regional Impact Assessment (RIA) prior to granting Crown permission for any development in or that facilitates access to the Ring of Fire.

On April 6, 2021, the Attawapiskat First Nation said it is moving to prevent De Beers from gaining Ontario government approval for a new mining landfill that it said would contain mine demolition waste from the now-closed Victor diamond mine located on the Attawapiskat’s traditional territory.

“Attawapiskat First Nation fears another “Juukan Gorge” disaster is going to occur if De Beers gets its way and the Indigenous community wants to alert De Beers’ shareholders to be aware, before bad decisions are made,” the Attawapiskat FN said in a press release.

This is a reference to Rio Tinto Plc’s [RIO-NYSE] decision to blow up two ancient Aboriginal rock shelters in Western Australia, a move that sparked a public outcry and led to the resignation of Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sebastian Jacques. Juukan Gorge was an Indigenous sacred site containing evidence of continuous human occupation dating back 46,000 years.

“We don’t want another Juukan Gorge disaster in or Traditional Territory,” said Attawapiskat First Nation, Council Member, Jack Linklater. “We don’t believe that Anglo American PLC and the Republic of Botswana want to allow De Beers staff to create a giant mine landfill on our Traditional Territory,” he said.

De Beers is owned 85% by Anglo American Plc [AAL-LSE, AGLJ- Jo’burg, Botswana, Swiss], a British multi-national mining company, and 15% by the Republic of Botswana.

The Victor Diamond Mine is now in the closure phase, where decommissioning and remediation are supposed to leave the landscape in a clean and safe state.

Attawapiskat FN said De Beers has applied for 97,000 cubic metres of landfill volume, which is just shy of the 100,000 cubic metres threshold which would trigger a comprehensive environmental assessment under Ontario law. “This level gets the landfill under the legal radar, but does not mean it would be any less threatening,’’ said Attawapiskat FN Council Member Sylvia Koostachin-Metatawabin.

The First Nation said De Beers could choose to pay the cost of transporting the demolition waste out of Attawapiskat First Nation Traditional Territory, where much of it could be reused and recycled and not left in vulnerable wetlands, threatening the destruction of millennia-old cultural sites.

“Instead, De Beers proposes this giant landfill that would leave the waste in this vulnerable area,” Attawapiskat FN said.

However, De Beers has said that at no stage during discussions with stakeholders was the site of the proposed landfill identified as being of cultural or spiritual significance.

“The proposed landfill would, if the application is approved, be located within the existing approved mine footprint and inside an existing approved mine rock pile, which has not been identified in the past by the community as being of cultural or heritage significance and would not result in any additional disturbance,’’ De Beers Canada said in a statement.

“All cultural and heritage sites that were identified in the numerous studies were located along rivers in the area and had not been disturbed, the company said.

The proposed landfill controversy is the latest development to hit the Ring of Fire region, an area that Ontario government officials have previously described as “one of the most promising mineral development opportunities in Ontario in almost a century.”

Recent estimates suggest multi-generational potential for chromite production as well as significant production of nickel, copper and platinum.

It has been said that chromite mined from the Ring of Fire would support the province’s massive mining services and supply chain for many decades to come, bringing new jobs and industry to the hard-hit north and its aboriginal communities.

After stating that it was prepared to invest billions of dollars on the Ring of Fire, Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. pulled the plug in November, 2013, after it failed to gain support from First Nations that would be impacted by the development.

Cliffs later sold its Ring of Fire Chromite properties to Noront Resources Ltd. [NOT-TSXV] for US$20 million March, 2015.


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