Canadian Ethnic Studies Book 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

March 13, 1993

Enclosed for your information is a copy of a review of the Goddard book on the Lubicons written by a prominent Canadian academic and appearing in a Canadian scholarly journal.

Canadian Ethnic Studies, Vol. XXIV, No. 2, 1992

Last Stand of the Lubicon Cree

John Goddard. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 191. 256 pp. $26.95 cloth.

Anyone in Canada who reads a newspaper or tunes in to CBC public affairs programming will be familiar with names like Grassy Narrows, Oka and Lubicon Lake as points of confrontation between Canada's First Nations and government at the federal and provincial levels. Without a comprehensive and well situated narrative to contextualize these crisis points, however, the reader is left with sympathetic feelings but little real understanding. LAST STAND OF THE LUBICON brings together the information necessary to understanding one such experience, the nearly successful bureaucratic and corporate attempt to annihilate a small Cree community in Northern Alberta.

John Goddard is a former Canadian Press journalist now doing independent investigative reporting. Goddard's book is very much the work of a meticulous and dedicated journalist rather than that of a disinterested scholar. I mean this as a positive comment. Without access to the information Goddard brings together, scholarly analysis of the Lubicon case would be impossible. Goddard's medium is entirely appropriate for weaving the story of events among the Lubicon into the larger history of which we are all a part. As one gets more deeply into the narrative, there comes a moment of truth. This story is about us as Canadians, not just about a small and often oppressed band in northern Alberta. Goddard takes the reader through a labyrinth of bureaucratic and corporate deceit that has driven, confused and educated the Lubicon Cree. The non-aboriginal reader experiences events through Lubicon eyes and then realizes that his or her own institutions are the instruments of this oppression and frustration.

It is impossible to read this book without taking sides. Unlike a few scholars who are so terrified of being identified as advocates that they fail to state the obvious conclusions about cultural genocide, Goddard tells the Lubicon story as a sympathetic outsider who has been witness to events about which he cannot remain silent. Advocacy, in this case, is the only informed alternative. In telling the Lubicon story, Goddard takes the reader through the educational process he experienced with them between 1984 and 1991.

The story that unfolds as the Lubicon's last stand is an almost Kafkaesque nightmare that begins when bands of Cree people hunting and trapping away from the major rivers were not enumerated by the commissioners for Treaty Eight in 1899. An attempt to correct that error in 1939 failed. By 1941, scores of Lubicon Crees had been removed from the band rolls by a zealously racist bureaucrat, Malcolm McCrimmon. Families were broken by this callous attempt to reduce the Indian population. Orphans were taken from their adoptive families. Those lucky enough to retain Indian status were forcibly separated rom those capriciously denied status.

The injustices that Goddard documents would have been bad enough if they were the product of an assimilationist policy carried out by an overzealous bureaucrat in less enlightened times, but the 1940s were nothing compared to what the Lubicon Cree suffered in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Oil exploration of their lands gave governments a powerful profit incentive to intensify the oppression. Because the events Goddard documents are still in process, there is no ending to his story, happy or otherwise. Happily, though, Goddard's story is also one of heroism and strength. Lubicon resistance reflects the strength of their young chief, Bernard Ominayak. Part of Ominayak's success came through his ability to organize support from sympathetic outsiders, accomplished in partnership with Fred Lennarson, a brilliant non-aboriginal activist whom the Lubicon came to call "our white man"(67).

Goddard leads the reader through a maze of legal maneuvering and stonewalling by the Alberta and federal governments. He presents invaluable and otherwise unavailable documentation of the Lougheed government's "master strategy" to subvert Native land rights in the interest of corporate resource development. As of the book's publication date, the fate of the Lubicon Cree as a community and Ominayak as its leader remain in question. In 1991 the federal government successfully engineered the creation of a "Woodland Cree" band by offering $50 to eligible voters to participate in a referendum and $1,000 if the agreement was passed. Beneficiaries of these payments learned later that all moneys received would be deducted from welfare payments, a condition affecting up to 90 per cent of band members.

LAST STAND OF THE LUBICONS powerfully demonstrates that capital knows no community and that the forces of globalization have no respect for local people or places. The Lubicon experience should serve as a warning to Canadians generally that similar forces threaten us all. Our prior complicity as victimizer does not grant us immunity from victimization. Global forces are impersonal. Only people are personal. John Goddard gives outsiders a chance to see the Lubicons as people like ourselves.

Robin Ridington

Department of Sociology and Anthropology

University of British Columbia