Lubicon Lake Indian Nation
Little Buffalo Lake, AB
3536 - 106 Street
Edmonton, AB T6J 1A4
April 3, 1992
Enclosed for your information is another review of the Goddard Lubicon book.
BEEDAUDJIMOWIN, Winter 1991
A RECURRING NIGHTMARE FOR INDIAN PEOPLE
LAST STAND OF THE LUBICON CREE
By John Goddard
Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 191
228 pages, $27.00
Review by Tom Howe
What would you do if a powerful stranger came to your house, invited himself in for dinner and proceeded to rob you of everything that mattered to you? What would you do if the same person kept coming back, asking for more; taking but never giving; and telling you that it is for your own good? What do you say when he asks you to trust him? What do you do when finally you are told that you are not who you say you are and that you must leave your house? This is the situation the Lubicons of Northern Alberta have faced for more than a century in their dealings with the federal government of Canada and the provincial government of Alberta.
Would you stand up and fight? That is exactly what the Lubicons have been doing. The Lubicons are fighting for what matters to them. What matters to them is a way of life that includes a rich cultural heritage, a language, and ultimately, the land upon which it all rests. Author John Goddard has taken pains to remind the reader that what matters to the Lubicon should matter to all of us -- Native and non-Native alike.
Goddard is a white journalist who is based in Montreal. He chronicles the story of a desperate but determined group of people in a struggle against the more powerful interest of the dominant society. From Chief Bernard Ominayak who has steadily gained confidence as a true leader of the Lubicons, and Fred Lennarson, the wily and energetic political activist, on the one hand, to people like the ruthless government agent Malcolm McCrimmon on the other, Goddard successfully brings to life the central figures of the Lubicon struggle. Goddard relates how, at one point, he thought that he and Ominayak might be kindred spirits. He then immediately reminds the reader of a stark realization of being a world apart from Ominayak and his way of life.
The story of the Lubicon is a recurring nightmare for Aboriginal people all over the world. It is a story of greed on the part of big business, of governmental corruption, and of lies and misunderstandings. Ultimately, it is a story of a people's struggle for their very existence.
When oil is discovered in Edmonton in 1947, the Lubicon struggle for cultural survival becomes intensified. Goddard also traces the clash of cultures dating back from today to a time prior to the oil discovery; of events leading up to 1899 when federal agents sought to complete an Indian treaty covering Northern Alberta and beyond. The object of that treaty was to extinguish Aboriginal claims to the land and to prepare the way of Canadian westward expansion and 'development'. One soon learns that the Lubicon are merely obstacles to 'progress' and must be removed.
This kind of mentality provides the perfect environment for a man like Malcolm McCrimmon to operate in. His attitude was simple: "a successful person couldn't be an Indian". He actively pursued a policy which was designed to reduce the government's Indian burden by stripping them of their Indian Status. McCrimmon basically told many of the Lubicon, "you are not who you say you are!" He destroyed many lives and he was only one instrument of the ruthless government policy of assimilation. The human suffering this policy entailed was irrelevant to government then, and remains so to this day.
The issue of Indian Status has been a continuous source of misunderstanding. For the Lubicon people, it is linked to the struggle for the creation of a cohesive community in which the right to self-determination can be achieved. Ominayak told the governments of Alberta and Canada on several occasions that his people's status was not negotiable. Neither government would listen to him. For the governments, it was, and still is, an economic issue because Band size dictates land size. Land size and Aboriginal title to the land are measured in terms of oil and forestry dollars. This has resulted in an absurd situation in which both governments have tried to tell many Lubicons that they do not belong with their people. It seems all too clear that human suffering has been given a dollar value by the ever popular bed-pals, government and big business.
The degree of human suffering is all too real for the average person to imagine, especially in a 'developed' society like ours. Goddard describes the depth of the social breakdown taking place in Lubicon society with many disturbing facts about increasing trends of violence, suicide, disease, and substance abuse. A general deterioration of the quality of life is the picture that soon emerges with horrifying clarity. It's important to understand that this story does not end just because someone has written a book about it. It is not yesterday's news and it will not go away. People are dying. A culture is dying. Today.
A constant source of hope has been the foresight and determination of the Lubicon people. Chief Bernard Ominayak was groomed for his leadership role many years in advance by his people. Ironically, the effects of doing battle with mega-businesses such as Shell and Daishowa, as well as with two levels of government, has forged a Nation out of the Lubicon. Ominayak's black cap which once read Lubicon Lake Band now reads Lubicon Lake Nation.
The tiny community of the Lubicon stands as a beacon for all Aboriginal people in their struggle for self-determination and self-government. As a person of Aboriginal ancestry, I feel strengthened and encouraged by this tiny community which refuses to give up even in the face of such overwhelming odds.
The Last Stand of the Lubicon is a book that must be read. It is well-written and it speaks to all of us. The Last Stand of the Lubicon symbolizes many things to me. It symbolizes that there is a heavy price to pay for trying to hold on to one's traditional ways but that there is an even heavier price to pay for letting go or having it taken from you. There is no question that the struggle is worth it to me because the Last Stand of the Lubicon also symbolizes one of Mother Earth's last stands against blind progress and development. With this in mind, one can appreciate that the Lubicon's struggle is also a last stand for our children's future.
(Tom Howe is of the Ojibway and Micmac nations. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts but has lived in Toronto for the past 14 years. Tom is a student at the University of Toronto.)