Re-printed from "BEEDAUDJIMOWIN", Summer 1991
UNDER ATTACK FROM THE MULTINATIONALS:
THE LUBICON DEFEND THEIR LAND
By Ed Bianchi
"We're trying to protect our land and our resources and we certainly don't consider doing something that conserves the environment or the land in any way breaking any kind of law."
Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak,
Drumfest, Toronto, 1991
In 1988, the United Nations Committee on Human Rights called on Canada to take immediate steps to ensure no further damage be done to the Lubicon society until its land claim is settled. Following the U.N. decision Alberta sold the trees on Lubicon territory to Daishowa, a Japanese-controlled forestry company.
In 1990 the U.N. Committee concluded that "recent developments threaten the way of life and culture of the Lubicon Lake band and constitute a violation of Article 27 so long as they continue." As a result of this decision, every year Canada is reported to the General Assembly of the United Nations as a violator of human rights.
In stark contrast to its support of the U.N. and its resolutions during the Gulf Crisis/War, the government of Canada has chosen repeatedly to ignore the United Nations with respect to the Lubicon Cree. In fact, rather than take responsible action in response to the U.N.'s findings, the Canadian government practices a campaign of disinformation. Indian Affairs Minister Tom Siddon has repeatedly made public statements that the U.N. Committee on Human Rights decided that there was no basis for the Lubicon charges although this IS NOT what the Committee decided?
BLOCKADES AND DEMONSTRATIONS
Last year's standoff at Oka, Quebec went far towards making Canadians more aware of how frustrated Native people are with the duplicity and deceitfulness of the federal and provincial governments. The armed assault by Quebec police on the previously peaceful Mohawk blockade led to blockades and demonstrations by other Native communities across the country. These spontaneous acts of solidarity provided Native people with a unique opportunity to expose how government treatment of Native people is the same from sea to shining sea: how Native concerns are secondary to corporate and political interests; how traditional Native economies and lifestyles are considered dispensable; how there are many "Okas" waiting to happen.
The blockades also generated an unprecedented sense of understanding and solidarity among many beyond the Native community. Those struggling for human and civil rights and those involved with the labour movement recognized that they share common ground with Native people.
The federal and provincial governments, on the other hand, are not interested in the concerns of First Nations. The Oka crisis was a blatant example of the Mulroney government's unwillingness to ensure a peaceful resolution of a conflict clearly under federal jurisdiction.
GOVERNMENT DEALS WITH CORPORATIONS
In northern Alberta, the federal government continues to ignore the negotiation attempts of the Lubicon Lake Cree Indian Nation. For more than 50 years the Lubicon have tried to negotiate with the federal government for the reserve promised them in 1939.
Before a road was built into their area by the Alberta government in 1979, the Lubicon lived in a very isolated, inaccessible part of the province. They were never contacted by government
officials wen Treaty was made in northern Alberta in 1899. As a result, the Lubicon claim Aboriginal title to their traditional lands, which cover 10,000 square kilometres.
Before the road, the Lubicon lived as they always had, as hunters and trappers, in log cabins with sod roofs. There were no vehicles, television or newspapers. They had horse-drawn wagons and dog sleds for transportation. They spoke their traditional language and lived their traditional way.
The publicly financed roads were built for oil companies, including Petro Canada, that were intent on drilling under Lubicon land. The roads were built WHILE the Lubicon were launching legal action in an attempt to settle their land claim before development began. Predictably, the federal government response was evasive at best, devious at worst.
As the government continued to stall and to avoid serious land claim negotiations, massive oil and gas development was destroying the Lubicon's self-reliant economy. Thousands of miles of roads were cut through the bush, scaring away wildlife and ruining traplines. Moose, once plentiful in the area and the staple of the Lubicon diet, were deliberately chased from the area. The continued disruption of their habitat means moose are now hard to find in the area. By the mid-80's, the annual community moose kill had dropped from an average of 400 to 19 per year.
The moose have been replaced by over 400 oil and gas wells which surround the Lubicon community of Little Buffalo Lake. To date over $6 billion in oil and gas revenue has been extracted from Lubicon land. The economically deprived Lubicon community has not received a single dollar.
The Lubicon believe their traditional economy has been deliberately destroyed by the governments of Canada and Alberta as part of a legal strategy. The Canadian courts have ruled that those asserting Aboriginal land rights have to be able to show that they continue to pursue a traditional way of life. By destroying the traditional Lubicon economy, the governments can argue in court that the Lubicon no longer pursue an Aboriginal way of life and therefore cannot assert Aboriginal title to the land.
The fact that the Lubicon people have not been able to defend their rights in the Canadian courts has not gone unnoticed at the United Nations. The U.N. Committee on Human Rights concluded that the Lubicon COULD NOT achieve effective legal redress within Canada.
Early in their struggle, when construction of the road into their territory began, the Lubicon tried to file a caveat under the Alberta provincial Land Titles Act, putting people on notice that title to the land was contested. Although at the time provincial law required this be done, the Alberta provincial government refused to accept and file the caveat. The Lubicon then asked the Canadian courts to order the provincial government to obey its own laws. Alberta responded by postponing the case saying it wanted to wait for the outcome of the Paulette case, a similar case in Northwest Territories. The Paulette case went against the Native people, but the judgement read that had Northwest Territories law been similar to Alberta law, the court would have decided in favour of the Native people and ordered the government to file the caveat.
The Alberta government went back to the courts and asked for a second postponement. Then they REWROTE the legislation and made it retroactive to before the time the Lubicon had filed the caveat. The case was then dismissed by the courts because it had no basis in law. In other words, the Alberta Government CHANGED THE LAW to achieve its own ends.
$1 MILLION A DAY OIL AND GAS ROYALTIES FOR ALBERTA
After the road was built the Lubicon tried to defend their rights in the federal court of Canada, since under the Canadian Constitution, Aboriginal people are the sole responsibility of the Federal Government. In court, many arguments were made, but none concerned the rights of the Lubicon. The province, the federal government and the oil companies argued that the Lubicon were in the wrong court; they should be in the provincial court. For 7 YEARS the case continued, without resolution. During all this, oil and gas development continued unabated.
When the Lubicon, with the help of the Crees of Quebec, tried to get a provincial court injunction to stop development until their claim was settled, the oil companies and the province argued that the case should never be heard because, simply, the province of Alberta cannot be sued. They argued as well that the oil companies, including Petro Canada, could not be sued either. Plus, they argued the case should not be heard because the damage was not irreparable. The trees would grow back. And, even if the damages were irreparable (the trees would not grow back?), the court still should not hear the case because the damages could be compensated with money. And, even if the damages were irreparable and could not be compensated with money, the courts STILL should not hear the case because there was no much at stake for the rest of Canadian society that the rights of a small community of Native people should not even be considered by the Canadian courts. What WAS at stake, for the Alberta government, was more than $1 million a day in gas and oil royalties. What was at stake, for the Lubicon, was their society.
As the judge, a former oil company lawyer, considered these arguments, the development the Lubicon had gone to court to stop continued unabated. Later in his decision, the judge said no traditional way of life had been shown.
The Lubicon appealed to the Alberta Court of Appeal which also refused to grant the injunction because, the court said, if the Lubicon could ever prove they own the land, they would be given enough money to enable them to restore the environment.
The Lubicon appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which declined to hear the case without explanation.
LUBICONS SECEDE, DECLARE INDEPENDENCE
In 1987/88, while the Lubicon were still working on their first legal action, on the question of Aboriginal land rights, a court case in Newfoundland concluded that the federal government cannot be sued in a federal court, regarding Aboriginal land rights within provincial boundaries, even though Aboriginal land rights are an exclusive federal responsibility. What it meant for the Lubicon was that their nine year court battle was now irrelevant. In short, there was no court in Canada where the Lubicon could defend their Aboriginal land rights.
Cynical about the potential for recognition of their Aboriginal rights and sovereignty through the courts or negotiations, in 1988 the Lubicon declared themselves a sovereign nation, and seceded from Canada. Since then they have infuriated federal representatives by refusing to recognizing Canadian jurisdiction over their land, their people and their lives.
In October, 1988 the Lubicon blockaded the roads into their area. They perceived no alterNative.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SABOTAGES NEGOTIATIONS
The blockade drew national and international support and led to the Grimshaw Agreement between Chief Ominayak and Alberta Premier Getty on how much land Alberta would set aside for the Lubicon reserve. In November, while in the midst of the election campaign, Prime Minister Mulroney met with Chief Ominayak and said he was putting his chief of staff to work on negotiations. In retrospect, the Lubicon are convinced that Prime Minister Mulroney had no intention of negotiating sincerely with the Lubicon people. Two months later the federal government deliberately sabotaged negotiations, tabling a "take-it-or-leave- it" offer they knew in advance was unacceptable. The offer contained absolutely no provision for the Lubicon people to become economically, socially or politically self-sufficient once again.
In the fall of 1989, Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak told Prime Minister Mulroney that federally-owned Petro Canada would have to obtain leases and permits form the Lubicon people, respect Lubicon wildlife management and protection laws and arrange to pay royalties to the Lubicon people for gas and oil that has been taken from their lands, if they intended to continue operations. Chief Ominayak gave Petro Canada 30 days to comply and indicated that: "Failure to meet any of these conditions will make involved projects subject to removal as unauthorized developments on unceded Lubicon territory."
A month later Petro Canada and Norcen...(which jointly operates some of Petro Canada's wells) shut down their wells voluntarily rather than recognize Lubicon jurisdiction. Norcen only re- opened its wells in November, 1990, almost a year later!
At roughly the half-way mark of 1991, with their traditional economy in ruins, 90 percent of the community on welfare and facing an uncertain future, the Lubicon are confronted with yet another threat to their survival as a distinct society, clear-cut logging. The environmental effects of oil and gas development on Lubicon lands have been disastrous to the traditional lifestyle of the Lubicon. But the combination of oil and gas development AND clear-cut logging threatens to destroy the Lubicon culture and land base entirely.
JAPANESE FORESTRY COMPANIES CLEAR-CUT LUBICON TERRITORY
There is something rotten in the forests of Alberta. Quietly, without public hearings or consultations, and without talking to the Lubicon, the Alberta government leased an area of Boreal forest the size of Great Britain to a dozen multinational corporations. Two Japanese-controlled forestry companies alone, Daishowa and Mitsubishi, have been granted leases to clear-cut 15 percent of the province.
The Boreal forest region covers 3.3 million square kilometers, or 34 percent of Canada, is part of the largest natural ecological zone on Earth, and is home to more than 25,000 animal and plant species. Sixty-five percent of this land has been logged. Most of the remaining 35 percent has been leased and is slated for clear cutting.
Daishowa's leases in Alberta cover ALL of the traditional lands under claim by the Lubicon. The company recently began operation of a large pulp mill on the Peace River and announced that logging would soon begin on Lubicon land. This decision broke a promise Daishowa made to the Lubicon in March, 1988 that logging would not start until the Lubicon land claim was settled. They lied.
As of December 1990, local companies under contract to Daishowa, including Brewster Construction Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary, began clear-cutting on Lubicon lands in an area approximately 120 kilometers north-east of Little Buffalo Lake, an area that includes Chief Bernard Ominayak's trapline. Meanwhile, Buchanan Lumber, another Daishowa subsidiary, is cutting trees about 50 kilometers northeast of the community.
When Daishowa first announced its logging plans the Lubicon warned they would protest. Subsequent media exposure forced the company to postpone its plans, although the necessary infrastructure roads and bridges were finished.
OMINAYAK ISSUES EVICTION NOTICE
On November 8, 1990, Chief Ominayak issued another eviction notice, this time addressed to ALL development interests on the territory. The companies were unmoved: logging went ahead, pumps operated as usual. On November 24 a fire set at a logging camp operating in Lubicon territory caused twenty thousand dollars in damage to equipment owned by Buchanan Lumber.
Thirteen Lubicon have since been charged with arson, mischief, possession of explosives and disguise with intent (a conspiracy charge) in relation to the incident. They each face up to 50 years in prison. Preliminary court appearances were scheduled for late April and early May, but the hearings have been delayed by Lubicon lawyers who are raising procedural points regarding the conduct of an RCMP investigation of the fire.
Following reports of "severe police state tactics" being used by the RCMP during the investigation, the Alberta Federation of Labour and Friends of the Lubicon (Edmonton) demanded an independent provincial-federal government committee be set up to probe the alleged RCMP harassment. During the investigation, Lubicon members being interrogated were denied access to legal counsel. In other cases there were unjustified threats to individuals in an attempt to extract information, including physical abuse when trying to gain confessions. Lubicon lawyer Robert Sachs said the RCMP were trying to create dissension in the community by harassing some Lubicon who were being charged.
The government recognizes the significance of this escalation in Lubicon strategy. Since Oka, they also realize that Native militancy does not automatically alienate public support. In keeping with this recognition, the government is sending the Lubicon a clear signal that serious resistance will not be tolerated. In the post-Oka period the stakes of the sovereignty struggle have been raised. The Canadian government has proven ready to use military force and starvation tactics to quell what they view as an uprising. The fact that these Lubicon are facing similar charges to the participants in the siege at Oka shows the government's determination to prevent other iconoclastic direct challenges to Canadian authority.
Despite numerous abortive attempts by the Lubicon, there are no substantive negotiations currently in progress with either level of Canadian government. There is also little potential for a negotiated settlement due to federal obstinacy. All legal avenues have been exhausted.
LUBICON SOLIDARITY NETWORK
The Lubicon have no choice but to defend themselves and their land base or suffer the extinction of their once viable, independent society. They are fighting to gain recognized control over their land. It is a struggle shared by most Native communities. But Native people comprise a small and diffuse portion of the population; therefore divide and rule, a familiar state tactic, is particularly effective in Canada's dealings with Aboriginal people. It is this isolation the Lubicon are fighting.
The Lubicon cannot afford a situation where potential allies, Natives, environmentalists and workers are polarized with the help of the media, multinationals and governments. The Lubicon cannot afford another Oka, where racist residents, police and the army forced Mohawks to take up arms to defend themselves and their community.
Friends of the Lubicon (Toronto) appeal to all people working for an end to oppression to join the Lubicon in resisting those forces which threaten life. The Lubicon have drawn much strength from the extent of national and international solidarity with their fight. At the Drumbeat Conference in Hamilton, Chief Ominayak stressed that public awareness and concern have helped the Lubicon survive this long, and he believes increased public understanding is necessary if the Lubicon have any hopes for a decent future.
"We have made great strides in educating the non-Native public," Chief Ominayak said. "The fact that non-Native people look at us as human beings is a good start. As understanding grows, we stand a better chance of surviving."
Those Canadians who recognize the need to redress injustices perpetrated against Native people can follow in the spirit of common defense expressed in the Treaty Alliance of Aboriginal Nations, an alliance initiated by the Lubicon, who believe solidarity is crucial for success. Upon signing the defense pact, Chief Ominayak said: "The Aboriginal people lack the resources to fight alone. Together we can make it harder for the federal government to totally ignore the agreements they have made with Native people."
We urge you to join the Lubicon solidarity network. We urge you to see the realization of Aboriginal rights as a critical part of your own fight for justice. Communicate with us; coordinate with us. Be prepared to come to the defense of the Lubicon, and other Native Nations, in the event of attack.
We urge you to join with us to build a solidarity movement strong enough to make it impossible for the Canadian government to ignore Aboriginal demands for justice.
At Drumbeat, Chief Ominayak explained that there are a lot of problems within the Lubicon community. He reminded everyone that the Lubicon "are not prepared to sell the future of their children, or kiss the government's ass", and he stressed that the outcome of the Lubicon Nation "is dependent on people who will do something". "When people start working together, we will succeed."
BEEDAUDJIMOWIN NOTE: Ed Bianchi is an independent film maker. He produced the only existing full-length documentary on the Lubicon Nation's struggle, OUR LAND, OUR LIFE. Ed is a member of the Friends of the Lubicon (Toronto). He is currently working on a documentary about the Sechelt Nation of British Columbia.