December 01, 2007

Diamonds for Dogribs

Rough Trade

How Canada’s diamond bonanza is turning a gritty and secretive industry inside outKnown as K’awi K’awo, or “The Boss” in Dogrib, a title he earned while managing the local Hudson’s Bay trading post, Marion went on to become a three-time mayor of Rae and commissioner of the Territories before taking on his current position as manager of the Dogrib Nation Group of Companies, the band’s economic-development arm and vanguard of its newly emerging financial might.

The group manages fourteen subsidiaries, including the only Aboriginal-run hydroelectric dam in Canada and the Territories’ sole private airport. Its first serious plunge into the business world, however, came with the advent of diamonds. Under special impact-benefit agreements reached with the two mines, both of which are located on traditional Dogrib lands, the corporation was given multi-million-dollar service contracts to haul ore, provide on-site sewage and road maintenance, and hire personnel.

While profits are still meagre, more than 250 band members in Rae-Edzo are now employed, either through the corporation or directly by the mines. Marion estimates that welfare rolls have been cut in half, from eighty to forty percent. Many who once squeaked by on $10,000 a year in social assistance are now earning annual salaries of anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000. “It has fundamentally changed what they want out of life,” Marion says.

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