Fort Albany and Kashechewan First Nations
IN THIS SECTION:
The relatively recent signing of the IBA between De Beers and these two First Nations shows De Beers’ continued commitment to adapt to the specific needs and interests of different Aboriginal communities impacted by the Victor Mine. Specifically, the length of time invested in IBA negotiations, and the progressive cultural protection measures included within the IBA are indicators of the positive working relationship fostered by all parties to the IBA. However, it remains to be seen if these provisions will be effectively implemented throughout the remainder of the mine’s life cycle.
Fort Albany First Nation and Kashechewan First Nation are located on opposite shores of the Albany river, approximately halfway along the James Bay coast from Moose Cree to Attawapiskat in the north (see Figure 3). The traditional territory of these First Nations spans to the headwaters of the Albany river in the west to north of the Attawapiskat river. A number of families in these communities have ancestral trap lines crossing directly through the Victor mine site (Inf. #5). Therefore, these two communities, although located farther from the mine, share many of the direct impacts experienced by members of the Attawapiskat First Nation. According to INAC (2009), Kashechewan has a population of approximately 1200 on-reserve, while Fort Albany is just below 900.
These two First Nations share a complicated history, as they were both under the Fort Albany Chief and Council until the early 1970s. However, the majority of Anglican members of the community moved to Kashechewan (on Fort Albany reserve #67), while the Roman Catholic members remained in Fort Albany (Inf. #4,5,8). This division led to the establishment of new public facilities and band leadership under the Kashechewan First Nation in the mid 1970’s. Although these communities have differences, they share many resources (e.g. the hospital in Fort Albany) and both have experienced significant social issues, low education levels, and a frighteningly high number of youth suicides in recent years (Inf. #8; see Wawatay News, January 21 2010).
When community members from both Fort Albany and Kashechewan learned that De Beers had signed an MOU in support of the Victor project, without yet consulting them, both First Nations were frustrated and ready to oppose any further development (Inf. #5). However, as in the case with Moose Cree, De Beers was operating under poor advice and quickly responded to the valid concerns of Fort Albany and Kashechewan. Rather than working through an MOU with the communities in advance of any further agreements, De Beers responded to the communities’ request to enter into IBA negotiations as soon as possible, and late 2005 and early 2006 the IBA process was initiated. Given the similar bargaining position of both communities, and to save time and other expenses, the communities agreed to negotiate a joint IBA with De Beers, and divide the provisions equally between themselves.
More so than in the other cases, the members of these communities were frustrated that construction of the mine site had already begun prior to their IBA being signed, and their negotiation teams were pressured to sign a deal that would secure local employment and job training during this high-volume employment phase of development (Inf. #4). Despite this pressure, the negotiation team decided to take a different approach and, in an attempt to learn from the experiences of Attwapiskat and Moose Cree, negotiate for an agreement that had significant economic development provisions, but that focused on cultural preservation, education, and improving local social conditions (Inf. #5,8). De Beers agreed to implement ‘standard’ local hiring practices while negotiations for other complex provisions were still underway. This allowed the negotiation teams to take their time to develop an IBA that reflected the long-term interests of the communities in maintaining their traditional hunting practices and detailed compensation provisions for hunters who were impacted by the mine, transmission corridor, and increased traffic on the winter road.
After nearly five years of discussion and negotiation, the De Beers - Fort Albany/Kashechewan IBA was approved by the communities and officially signed in December 2009. Although much of the contents of the agreement are confidential, it contains many progressive policies and provisions, such as the ‘Shabatowan’ chapter that essentially requires all parties to the IBA to conduct themselves in accordance with Cree values and traditions of honour and partnership (Inf. #8). This IBA is a significant achievement, but Fort Albany’s Chief Andrew Solomon noted that, “at times, these negotiations were difficult. We were not always confident that De Beers understood and respected our ways. The IBA provides us with the reassurances we need to move ahead. We look forward to the benefits we will share from the mine” (see DBC, 2009).
Since the Fort Albany/Kashechewan IBA has only been in force for a few months, these communities are just beginning the implementation phase and have yet to encounter many of the challenges experienced by Attawapiskat and Moose Cree. The IBA is widely supported throughout the communities, while some First Nation staff and community elders remain fearful of the long-term effects of industrial development within their territories (Inf. #8). Despite these concerns, Kashechewan’s Chief Jonathan Solomon asserts, “This IBA is a fair agreement for our people. It respects our way of life. At the same time, it provides opportunities for our youth and our work force. It also provides compensation to assist us to manage the impacts of the mine on our livelihood and it recognizes the need to protect wildlife and the environment.”
By fostering a positive working relationship with these two communities, it appears that De Beers has made great strides to recover from the initial frustration and potential conflict with Fort Albany and Kashechewan. As this relationship matures, it is the hope of all parties to the IBA that the impacted communities will be able to share in the benefits of the mine, while negative impacts will be minimized (DBC, 2009). Of course, the long-term success of the agreement will likely be evaluated very differently by each of the signatories; De Beers being most interested in investment security and profit margins, while to Fort Albany and Kashechewan, it is a matter of identity and long term community well being.