Lutsel K’e wants diamond companies to help fix social ills

Lutsel K’e wants diamond companies to help fix social ills
The Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation says benefits touted by diamond mining companies are often hindrances to people’s well being in the community, which is impacted by rising crime and addiction rates.Leslie Philipp.

The Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (LKDFN) is asking one of the territory’s diamond companies to assist the community in addressing a host of social problems it says have been exacerbated by industrial development.

In a letter sent to the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board last month, LKDFN requested that Dominion Diamond Corp., which owns the Ekati mine, support the remote, fly-in community in mitigating the crime, addictions, suicide and domestic violence that have increased since the advent of mining.

Dominion is currently seeking approval for its Jay-Cardinal project, which would see two additional kimberlite pipes mined at the Ekati site, extending the mine life by 10 to 20 years.

While the First Nation said it is satisfied with the majority of Dominion’s terms of reference for the project, it wants to see an assessment into why, “after almost 20 years of mining development, the social situation in Lutsel K’e is continually degrading,” along with a mitigation plan.

“It’s clear to LKDFN that we are not taking advantage of employment and business opportunities for various reasons, but what is more important to LKDFN members is that we are living happy and healthy lives,” states the letter from Mike Tollis, LKDFN’s manager of wildlife, lands and environment.

Tollis said government surveys, as well as community observations, indicate a rise in crime rates, violence, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide and domestic violence that share a timeline with mining developments.

Those statistics saw Lutsel K’e’s social workers band together in opposition during the latest public hearings on De Beers’ Gahcho Kué diamond mine project in December 2012, arguing that another mine will only increase the social unrest being experienced by the community, which is under resourced to deal with the drugs and cash flow that are brought home by workers from the mines.

“In Lutsel K’e specifically, the ‘benefits’ of employment and disposable income that the mining operations enthusiastically promote are often hindrances to community social prosperity, wellness and family cohesion,” Tollis wrote.

Though the draft terms of reference require the company to document socioeconomic conditions and information on wellbeing, including local services and infrastructure, the First Nation wants Dominion to do more by working with the community to correct the issues.

“LKDFN does not believe it is unreasonable to request that (Dominion) go beyond simply reporting on the existing social environment in the community…and be required to properly analyze and provide plans to mitigate the adverse impacts of developments on the lives of community members,” the letter states.

“We’re not requesting that industry take the role of governments, or cross the boundary of government responsibility, but if the developer can assist the community in addressing these problems as collaborators, human health and wellness in the community would be greatly improved.”

Dominion did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

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