Canadian Tribune Article

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

November 29, 1991

Enclosed for your information is an article providing a good summary of the Lubicon situation as of the end of November 1991.

THE CANADIAN TRIBUNE, November 25, 1991


By Paul Ogresko

Winter has set in around Little Buffalo Lake in northern Alberta and for now everything is quiet. It is, however, an uneasy calm in woods which have seen much confrontation in the past. For more than 50 years the Lubicon Cree have been fighting for recognition of their land and of their rights. The past 15 of them in the face of massive development of oil and gas on their lands -- development that destroyed a hunting and trapping society. During one 16 month period following the 1979 explosion of resource development there were 22 deaths as the small community went through the convulsions of a world turned upside down.

But the community has fought back for the recognition of the 10,000 square kilometres of their unceded, traditional land. They have garnered world-wide support, have set up blockades, and have initiated Olympic boycotts.

Bernard Ominayak, the soft-spoken Chief of the Lubicon Lake Cree, in his early 40s, is still a relatively young man. A former trapper, he has been Chief of the Lubicon Lake Cree since 1978 and has seen his people try to respond to the changes taking place around them. He has also become a skilled veteran in the frustrations of negotiating with both the federal and provincial governments along with the corporations who see the Lubicon land as a source of profit.

"Until we have a signed agreement with both levels of government all this land is still in question," Ominayak told the TRIBUNE. "The ball is really in their courts. We have given our proposals to them and we are waiting to see how they respond."

During a recent meeting federal Indian Affairs Minister Tom Siddon had told Ominayak that he would like to see the situation settled before Siddon's term in office came to an end. Having listened to many unfulfilled promises before, Ominayak remains sceptical.

"We certainly hope that at some pint we get a fair and just settlement but," he cautions, "it may take another (federal) government to be able to deal with these kinds of situations. We certainly aren't going to go away and the sooner the governments understand that it will make it easier for everybody."

And while Ominayak awaits a government response to the Lubicon Lake Cree's proposals, the community is also keeping a wary eye on Daishowa Canada and its plans to begin logging activities on the disputed land. In 1988 the Alberta provincial government granted Daishowa, Japan's second largest paper manufacturer, a lease to log 29,000 square kilometres of northern Alberta, including the Lubicon territory.

After the signing of the lease Ominayak met with Daishowa officials and obtained a commitment from the company that logging would not take place on the disputed land. Then, in November 1990, Buchanan Lumber, a subsidiary of Daishowa Canada, began clear-cutting trees on the disputed land. Sixteen days later, the logging equipment of Buchanan Lumber went up in flames. Thirteen Lubicon band members were charged with arson and other offenses while Ominayak warned Daishowa that any further logging on the disputed territory could "result in a dangerous and potentially violent confrontation between your people and ours."

The potential for further conflict surfaced again this fall when Brewster Construction, another Daishowa subsidiary, announced its plans to log in the area. But, in the face of mounting pressure from national and international Lubicon support groups and a threatened boycott of its products, Daishowa seemed to reconsider.

In a November 8 letter addressed to the Friends of the Lubicon support group in Toronto, James Morrison, the General Manager of Daishowa's Edmonton office wrote that "Daishowa Canada (and its subsidiaries) have elected to avoid the area of concern to the Lubicons this winter." Ominayak confirms that so far there has been no movement by any logging company to infringe on the traditional area.

However, Ominayak says, the community is still waiting for a firm, public commitment from Daishowa that there will be no logging on Lubicon territory till after a settlement is reached. If there is any attempt to log on the territory this winter Ominayak says the Lubicon Cree will do what is necessary to stop it.

"As long as this matter remains unresolved we certainly do not want any logging whatsoever to take place," he said. "And even if a settlement is reached between the Lubicon Cree and the two levels of government, the question of the environment and wildlife remains."

For their part the international support networks that have built around the Lubicon case are determined to proceed with their boycott campaign unless Daishowa makes a public statement that it will not log on the territory in question until after a settlement. For the economically-troubled Daishowa, which is currently trying to unload its Peace River pulp mill to the tune of $1-billion, a successful boycott could be economically devastating. In Ontario Daishowa paper bags and cartons are used by the Liquor Control Board, Pizza Pizza, Cultures and the Ho-Lee-Chow fast food chains.

Only when agreement is reached with the two governments will the community, according to Ominayak, be ready for the next stage in the process. That stage will likely be the negotiating of a harvesting agreement between Daishowa and the Lubicon Cree. Such an agreement would need to encompass Ominayak says, not only the question of economic justice but also the environmental health of the land.