Lubicon: Article in "The Advocate"

Lubicon Lake Indian Nation
Little Buffalo Lake, AB
FAX: 403-629-3939

Mailing address:
3536 - 106 Street
Edmonton, AB T6J 1A4
FAX: 403-437-0719

March 8, 1991

Enclosed for your information is a copy of a commentary on the Lubicon situation which appeared in the February edition of a publication called "The Advocate". "The Advocate" is the Journal of the Alberta Association of Social Workers.

Re-printed with permission from "The Advocate", February 1991


by Michael Kim Zapf

The New Year's Day 1991 edition of The Globe and Mail featured a powerful article entitled When Silence Feeds Violence. Written by a Montreal woman, "whose name has been withheld at her request because she fears physical reprisals," the article described a frightening incident on the Montreal subway when four skinheads selected a "small black man who was riding alone" and proceeded to taunt him. When their victim got out at the next station, they held the doors open and dragged him back in where they beat him.

The woman writing the article was appalled that none of the other passengers tried to help; they simply looked away. In trying to understand this indifference to suffering, she concludes that members of the silent majority have become desensitized to the cries of victims. They are either unable to respond to what does not appear to concern them directly, or they are afraid of becoming the next victim themselves.

I am sure most of us who read that horrible account hope we would have done something to help if we had been in that subway car. This is not to suggest that any of us could have responded a-la- Rambo-or-Dirty-Harry and dealt out fitting retribution on the spot. But we might at least have objected to what was going on. As the woman clarified:

"I am talking about humanity, not heroism; about responsibility, not risk...Protesting against the crime is as important as helping the victim. The subway skinheads did what they did because previous experience had taught them they could get away with it. It was the fear and indifference of others that enabled the skinheads to win. They and other barbarians must be told -- even if it is in a small way -- that what they do is wrong and will not be tolerated."

At our AASW conference last year we heard from Chief Bernard Ominayak and advisor Fred Lennarson about the history of the Lubicon Cree of northern Alberta and their struggle for a just land claim settlement. We were reminded that the federal government promised the Lubicons a reserve over 50 years ago, a promise which has never been honoured. We heard about decades of shameful manipulations and broken promises from all levels of government. At the same time oil development in the Lubicons' traditional area has devastated the animal population, making their traditional lifestyle impossible while extracting millions of dollars in profits for outside oil companies and the provincial government through royalties. Many at the conference were shocked as Chief Ominayak and Mr. Lennarson outlined the specifics of unacceptable terms included in the federal government's "take-it-or-leave-it" settlement offer.

What has happened since that time? Nothing has moved at all with the federal government. The agreement of two years ago with the provincial government to set aside a reserve area in northern Alberta has not been implemented. And as if it were not enough to exploit subsurface resources, destroy their lifestyle and force the Lubicon Cree into poverty, outside forces are now after the very trees that cover their land! In late October two logging companies related to the huge new Daishowa Pulp Mill (with whom the Lubicons believed they had an agreement) began logging operations on the disputed land. The Lubicons issued a press statement warning that "anyone wishing to exploit natural resources in unceded Lubicon territory will require operating permits, licenses and leases from the Lubicon people."

Unauthorized projects would be "subject to removal at any time without further notice." However, the Lubicon notice was ignored; not only did logging progress, but a decision was made to re-open 18 wells on the unceded land. On November 24 a surprise raid was made against a logging camp in the Lubicon territory and expensive equipment was destroyed. Over a dozen band members were arrested following the incident.

Like the victim on the Montreal subway, the Lubicon must wonder how the silent majority can sit back and let this all happen. On this great train we call Canada, a victim is being brutalized in the Alberta car and we are all looking away, not hearing the victim because we don't want to. Will it take another Oka to temporarily wake us up? Surely this is another time for humanity rather than heroism.

In a December 11 correspondence the Lubicon Lake Indian Nation pleaded that "flooding Federal and Provincial politicians with letters may now be the Lubicon's only hope." Can you hear them? Can you help?

(Michael Kim Zapf, PhD, RSW teaches with the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary.)