De Beers pressured in First Nation suicide crisis

Crisis teams are being deployed to the Cree community of Attawapiskat in northern Ontario, where more than 100 residents have tried to take their own life in the past seven months. Attawapiskat Chief Bruce Shisheesh said a state of emergency has been declared in the community, and Canada's Health Minister Jane Philpott called the situation "one of the most serious and pressing tragedies" facing the country." Hundreds more adolescents have attempted suicide, and hundreds more than that have been placed on a "suicide watch"—in a community of only 2,000. (Winipeg Free Press, April 25; CBC, CBC, April 11) 

Bill Gallagher, author of the book, Resource Rulers, points to international diamond company De Beers as complicit in the crisis at Attawapiskat. In 2007, the company and the Attawapiskat council worked out an agreement based on the provincial tax rebate of five percent as a remote "northern mine." This rate was the basis for the Impact Benefits Agreement (IBA) signed by De Beers and the community.

However, a change to the provincial budget saw De Beers lose its remote mine status, and the tax on diamonds was raised to 13%. Less profit for the company meant fewer funds to be shared under the IBA. "Critically needed economic development money was being siphoned off in a last-minute tax reversal," Gallagher states.

De Beers has extracted more than $2.5 billion in rough diamonds from Attawapiskat's traditional lands since 2007. The Victor diamond mine lies just 90 kilometers from the community. Despite record profits of nearly a billion, De Beers paid the Ontario government just $226 in royalties in 2014. An online petition calls on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to revisit the province's royalty regime and make De Beers "pay its fair share in royalties and compensate Attawapiskat fairly." (Saskatoon Star Phoenix, SumOfUs, April 23)

De Beers has been similarly implicated in destruction of indigenous communities in Africa.