FRANK Magazine - A very frank review

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

December 2, 1991

Enclosed for your information is a copy of an article on the new Lubicon book by John Goddard.

The article contains one error. Bill McKnight is not from Alberta but from the neighboring Province of Saskatchewan.

FRANK MAGAZINE, December 12, 1991


The unprecedented ex-communication notice issued against Montreal writer John Goddard (see end of this article) is a result of Goddard's recent book LAST STAND OF THE LUBICON CREE. In an outstanding piece of investigative reporting, Goddard puts names and faces to the bureaucrats and politicians -- federal and provincial -- who put boots to the Lubicon while the oil companies took five billion dollars worth of crude out of the Lubicon's ancestral lands.

The Lubicon Indians have never signed a treaty with Canada and hence have never received reserve land, though they continued to live in the Lubicon Lake area in northern Alberta. In 1940 the Indian Band was on the point of recognition but a notorious Indian Affairs official, Malcolm McCrimmon, intervened to strike out most of the Band members on the grounds they had no right to be considered Treaty Indians. This was consistent with McCrimmon's desire to minimize government obligations and foreshadowed the tactics taken some 50 years later by Roger Tasse, a former deputy minister of justice, hired by the Department of Indian Affairs to negotiate with the Lubicon.

For most of the intervening years the Lubicon were generally ignored by Ottawa and the Alberta government; they lived primarily from hunting and trapping and their land was thought to have no great value. Lubicon attempts to have a reserve established were easily shunted aside. What changed all this and pushed the Lubicon to centre stage was the great Alberta oil boom and the discovery that the land the Lubicons trapped and hunted was the repository of billions of dollars of oil. This might have been expected to accelerate progress to get a reserve established so that the Lubicons, like the Samson Indians, could benefit from the revenues. But that is not the Alberta way.


The Alberta way, as Goddard explains, is to have the low-lifes who run the province's politics lie and cheat their way out of making any commitments to the Indians while the oil companies get on with plundering the Indians' land. In the process, oil trucks force Indian cars into the ditch, caterpillar tractors deliberately bury Indian trap lines, the trapping and hunting economy is destroyed and the Lubicon devastated by TB, violent deaths and escalating social breakdown. In Alberta, it only remained to wait for the Indians to attempt to resist so that helicopters, armed police and attach dogs could be sent in to deal with the unruly savages.

The period Goddard investigates is the time when the motley collection of pig farmers, used car salesmen, wacko racists and arch-goniffs who make up the Alberta Conservative party arrived in Ottawa to help their Quebec brothers make Canada the great country it is today. Key to the success of the Alberta strategy was the willingness of their friends in the federal government to turn a blind eye while the oil industry boys got on with a nice bit of old-fashioned sodomy.

The deal was easily arranged since for much of the time the Deputy Prime Minister was none other than good ol' boy Don Mazankowski, the Edmonton used car salesman. The Indian Affairs Minister was Alberta's other intellectual, Bill McKnight. McKnight and "Maz" had every opportunity to keep the feds in check, comparing notes not only in Cabinet but also at the downtown pied-a-terre they share with Jack Shields. Shields, it will be recalled, recently brought the House down with his use of the old-fashioned term of Albertan affection, "Sambo", toward MP Howard McCurdy.


One of the key figures in the Lubicon saga was Bruce Rawson. Formerly a top Albertan civil servant, Rawson served as deputy minister at Indian Affairs, 1985-87, and was viewed by many on the Lubicon side as being Maz's hitman. Rawson's commitment to his native province was certainly never in doubt. He commuted back to Edmonton on weekends before being rewarded with a plum position as head of the Tories' $100 million Western Diversification slush fund.

Rawson's reign coincided with David Crombie's term as Indian Affairs Minister. Crombie attempted to bypass the colonial office rednecks who run Indian Affairs and establish a number of independent initiatives to address Indian problems. Crombie's efforts included the appointment of Davie Fulton, justice minister under John Diefenbaker, as a special envoy to the Lubicon. These activities created outrage in colonial office bunkers and precipitated the quick departure of the diminutive Crombie to investigate the Toronto waterfront.

Fulton's report offered support not only for claims for a reserve for the Lubicon but also recommended millions of dollars in compensation. Clearly, the feds needed a damage control measure. Crombie's exit ended Fulton's role and the new minister, McKnight, brought in Tasse and dispatched him to Little Buffalo to negotiate. Tasse immediately made it clear that he was not prepared to accept the word of Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak regarding who was or wasn't a band member. Many of those on the list, in Tasse's view, were not status Indians. As for the charge that the destruction of their traditional lands by the oil companies and the denial of reserve lands were leading to cultural genocide, Tasse found no evidence. The jolly Roger further offered his expert view on the hunting problems: "They could have overhunted. You cannot kill and kill and kill." The effect oil company activities had on the environment was clearly insignificant in comparison to the surging Indian appetite.


Tasse's unique insight into the nature of Lubicon problems was, alas, short-lived. For awhile, the energetic Tasse had been able to serve Rawson as negotiator with the Lubicon AND function as senior legal adviser to Manitoba's Northern Flood Committee -- on the advice of one Ernie ("Ernie") Hobbs (Franks passim, ad nauseum). The James Bay Cree leader, Billy Diamond, pointed to the schizophrenic possibilities: Tasse advising Rawson to resist Lubicon demands for justice while at the same time asking for justice for the Manitoba Cree in the Northern Flood Agreement. In the end, Tasse selflessly sacrificed his Ottawa clients and shortly afterwards moved into the more familiar environment of vice-president of Bell-Canada, subsequently reemerging to assist Byron Muldoon as Meech Lake went down the tubes.

Clearly, Tasse's experience in Indian country impressed the people who count most because he was one of the high-powered delegation sent to Manitoba in 1990 to establish the price of Indian support for Meech Lake. Others were less impressed. According to Goddard, "John van Tilborg, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, had visited Little Buffalo and dined with Roger Tasse in Ottawa, and said afterwards: "I was shocked. Europeans have the impression that Canada is one of the few countries in the world taking human rights seriously. Then you see what they did and you are really shocked."

The Lubicon issue refused to go away. European groups and even the United Nations Human Rights Committee became involved. Indian Affairs, with a new DM, Harry Swain, formerly with the PCO and under the guidance of Deputy PM Mazankowski, was pressured to find a face-saving formula.

In the heat of the 1988 election campaign, Muldoon made extravagant promises and designated chief of staff Derek Burney to oversee negotiations. The Lubicon showed little willingness to sign any deal which would not provide substantial compensation for the damage they had sustained. Talks collapsed.

Once again, the government's reaction was divide and rule. The first step was to try to find a dissident Lubicon faction to throw out Chief Ominayak. When that tactic failed the government invented a new group of Indians to be known as the Woodland cree. The creation of the new band would be used to stave off foreign criticism and to serve as a recruiting point for picking off defeated and disillusioned Lubicon Band members.

To encourage the Lubicon to join the instant Band and accept the land and financial settlement which Ottawa offered to the Woodland Cree, those who arrived to vote on the deal were given a $50 cheque with a further promise of $1,000 if the deal went through. (Even in the Indian Affairs department's hour of triumph the opportunity for a little duplicity was too tempting to be passed over. Indeed, a few days after accepting the deal, the members of Canada's most unusual Indian Band were told the payments would be deducted from their social assistance cheques).

Today, the Lubicon Cree are demoralized, their economy is bankrupt and the widely-respected Ominayak struggles to regroup his forces.

October 25, 1991, Memorandum from Regional Director General of Indian Affairs, Alberta Region, Garry Wouters, to All Directors in the Alberta Region.

SUBJECT: John Goddard

John Goddard is a freelance reporter and has authored a book on the Lubicon Lake Band's land claim which is scheduled for release November 12, 1991.

Mr. Goddard has lately requested information from staff of the Alberta Region on subjects such as the Lubicon Lake Band and Woodland Cree Band.

Please be advised that effective immediately no staff are to provide information to Mr. Goddard unless such requests are in writing and these should be directed to Fred Drummie, Associate Deputy Minister.

Please advise Wayne Hanna if you receive such a call.