Public Reaction to Lubicon Settlement Commission Report

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 25, 1993

Enclosed for your information are copies of assorted materials pertaining to the report of the Lubicon Settlement Commission of Review, including a draft resolution to the European Parliament, a press statement by the Aboriginal Affairs Critic of the Federal Liberal Party of Canada, a newspaper article on a statement by a spokesman for the New Democrat Party of Canada, related correspondence and media coverage and a couple of editorials.

Attachment #1:

Resolution 63

On Violation of Indigenous Rights in Canada

The European Parliament

  1. Considering its resolutions B3-0334/92, A3-0182/90, A3-300/90 and B8-0119/90;

  2. Considering the 50-year-old struggle of the Lubicon Cree to receive the protection of a reserve and financial compensation for the exploitation of resources taken from their unceded traditional territory;

  3. Considering that this outstanding tragedy has been brought before the UN Human Rights Committee who found the Canadian Government in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and called for meaningful negotiations as an appropriate remedy to end the continuing violation of the Human Rights of the Lubicon Cree;

  4. Considering that the Lubicon Settlement Commission of Review consisting of prominent Canadian citizens initiated in-depth investigations concerning the Canadian Government's offers to the Lubicon Cree and found them neither fair or generous;

  5. Considering that the aforesaid Commission delivered their final report which has been positively received by the Canadian society;

  1. Calls upon the Canadian and Alberta Governments to immediately enter into unprejudiced negotiations with the Lubicon Cree;

  2. Recommends the findings of the final report released by the Lubicon Settlement Commission of Review as a viable way to solve this issue;

  3. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Canadian and Alberta Governments and the Lubicon Lake Indian Nation.

Attachment #2:

March 16, 1993, Communique by Ethel Blondin-Andrew, M.P., Western Arctic, Official Opposition Critic for Aboriginal Affairs


Liberal Critic for Aboriginal Affairs, Ethel Blondin-Andrew, spoke today, at a Press Conference held by Friends of the Lubicon, a Toronto-based support group who were in Ottawa to discuss the Final Report just released by the Lubicon Settlement Commission of Review. Speaking to reporters and Members of Parliament, Blondin-Andrew commented on the outstanding Lubicon Land Claim and the Federal Government's failure to resolve the Claim, which is now considered an international human rights issue: "The Lubicon issue is not a partisan issue. It is an issue of the Lubicon's struggle for aboriginal land rights and in their belief to secure a permanent land base and in doing so, preserve their spiritual, traditional and cultural way of life for generations of Lubicon People to come." The Liberal M.P. went on to say, "After more than fifty years, the human rights of the Lubicon remain at stake and continue to be abused. Negotiations between the Lubicon and the Federal Government have not taken place since 1989. Clearly, this Government has reneged on its fiduciary responsibility to the Lubicon People."

Blondin-Andrew believes too much time has already been wasted on studies, reports and bureaucratic mechanisms, which have only delayed and diminished Lubicon progress. "The priority must be, to resolve each issue; cumbersome mediators and independent tribunals will not be productive in this case. The Federal Government could begin with the report's recommendation #5 which suggests that, beginning immediately, all royalties be held in trust, and that no additional permits or leases be granted on traditional Lubicon lands without Lubicon approval. This is a must and it is an excellent incentive - - tying up third party financial interests is guaranteed to force the Federal Government to move much more quickly."

The Liberal Critic was also very pleased to see the Report's recommendation #8, that the extinguishment of Aboriginal Rights, including land rights, not be a condition for settlement ". "This recommendation is compatible with Liberal Party Policy on extinguishment, and with my own personal beliefs, as an aboriginal person. It has always been this Government's policy to pit one group of aboriginal people against another. In the case of the Lubicon, they funded splinter groups. The issue of extinguishment has split ties of friendship and relationships of aboriginal families and their communities. I wonder where Ms. Campbell stands on extinguishment and the Lubicon?"

Attachment #3:

March 17, 1993, Ottawa Citizen


By Jack Aubry

Citizen native affairs reporter

Canadian governments are slowly "murdering" the Lubicon Cree of Alberta by failing to settle the band's 50-year-old land claim, a New Democrat charged Tuesday.

Edmonton East MP Ross Harvey said the Lubicon are being annihilated by oppressive living conditions while they are continually frustrated by the failure of federal and provincial governments to settle the claim.

"This is surely murder. It has got to stop in the name of decency," Harvey told a press conference on Parliament Hill.

Officials from the Action Canada Network, the National Association of Japanese Canadians, the Aboriginal Rights Coalition and Friends of the Lubicon were launching a campaign to lobby MPs for support of Lubicon land rights and to pressure the government to settle the claim.

The push comes after the release last week of a report by a citizens' commission urging a settlement of the Lubicon claim.

The commission, set up by Alberta New Democrats, condemned government failure to reach a settlement and urged public negotiations between Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Premier Ralph Klein or their ministers.

Liberal MP Ethel Blondin said the political will does not exist within the federal government.

While she said the report's recommendation to appoint mediators was "cumbersome", Blondin supports the recommendation to immediately put royalties from the disputed land in a trust fund.

Negotiations broke off in 1992 when the Lubicon rejected the government offer of $73 million and 95 square miles of land. The band wants $170 million, including $100 million for lost oil and gas royalties.

Attachment #4:

March 15, 1993, letter to Brian Mulroney from the Manitoba Oblates, Justice and Peace Committee

Dear Prime Minister Mulroney:

Enclosed is a copy of a letter we have written today to the Minister for Indian Affairs and Northern Development, concerning the recently-released report of the Lubicon Settlement Commission of Review. In our letter, we note that the findings and recommendations of the Commission are similar to those made by your government's special envoy, E. Davie Fulton, and to many others who have studied the situation of the Lubicon over the past 19 years. We trust that your government will act quickly to implement the recommendations of this panel of independent citizens. It would truly be an appropriate way to bring the work of this present mandate of your government to auspicious close.

Yours truly, Margot Lavoie, Coordinator, Manitoba Oblate Justice and Peace Committee

Attachment #5:

March 15, 1993, letter to Tom Siddon, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, from the Manitoba Oblates, Justice and Peace Committee

Dear Mr. Siddon:

We have just received copies of the findings and recommendations of the Lubicon Settlement Commission of Review, that presented its report at a news conference in Edmonton on Friday, March 12. We understand that although your government and the Government of Alberta both declined to appear before this citizens' panel, you have indicated that you were following the progress of the Commission and that you would study its report. As you are no doubt aware, the Commission was made up of citizens from many sectors of society, including the business community of the Peace River area, and from all major political parties. We understand also that their report was unanimous.

The findings of the Lubicon Settlement Commission of Review are very much similar to those of previous studies which have been made by the United Nations, E. Davie Fulton, the World Council of Churches and many individuals from Canada and from the international community. The Commission has found that "the Lubicon proposal, based on the need for community viability, represents a fairer basis for settlement than the proposals of the federal government". Moreover, they have concluded that a settlement with the Lubicon Cree could not constitute a precedent for other settlements, since there are no other situations which resemble the unique circumstances of the Lubicon. We find the 12 recommendations of the Commission to be most reasonable. We are optimistic that they will lead to a just resolution of this long standing injustice and end to "the downward spiral of despair and self-destruction" begun by the sudden transformation from an entirely self-sufficient hunting and trapping economy to the present dependence on welfare assistance, and exacerbated by the discouragement and frustration of so many years of disappointment and betrayal of promises. We believe it would be a most fitting culmination to the work of the current mandate of your government to resolve this issue by acting on these recommendations; this would do much to restore the reputation Canada as a nation that treats its minorities with justice and respect.

Thank you for your attention to this very important matter. We look forward to learning of your prompt respond to this latest chapter of what has become a very long and especially tragic saga in the annals of relations between the people of Canada and this much-abused Aboriginal nation.

Yours truly, Ms. Margot Lavoie, Coordinator, Manitoba Oblate Justice and Peace Committee

Attachment #6:

March 18, 1993, letter to Brian Mulroney and Tom Siddon from the Mennonite Central Committee, Canada

Dear Sirs:

On March 13, 1993, the Executive Committee of Mennonite Central Committee Canada (MCCC) took the following action: "It was agreed to urge the Federal Government, in consultation with the Alberta Government and the Lubicon Nation, to resume negotiations, using `The Lubicon Settlement Commission of Review -- Final Report' as a basis." You will find that report enclosed.

Mennonite Central Committee Canada which includes representation from the province of Alberta drafted the above action. Through MCCC's active participation in community development at Little Buffalo in the areas of education and agriculture, we observe the serious social deterioration of the community. We regard an early settlement, using the enclosed report as a basis, as paramount for the development of an alternative and viable economic community base. We look forward to your active response to the commission's report and recommendations.

MCCC recognizes the profound responsibility vested in the governmental processes. From our own intensive involvement in several critical Native communities across Canada, we commit our best efforts towards support of honourable solutions to the longstanding Lubicon crisis.

Yours sincerely, Daniel Zehr, Executive Director

Attachment #7:

March 22, 1993, edition of Western Catholic Reporter


By Ramon Gonzalez

WCR Staff Writer


Failure to settle the long-standing land claim of the Lubicon Indians could lead to the demise of Lubicon society, said an independent commission investigating the claim.

The 29-page commission report, released March 12, described the Lubicon situation as "urgent" and urged public negotiations between Lubicon leaders, the Prime Minister of Canada and the Alberta Premier or their ministers.

"The situation is urgent, the Lubicon as a society have very little time left," commission co-chair Jennifer Klimek, an Edmonton lawyer, told a press conference.

"The alternative to a just settlement is to see the Lubicon continue the downward spiral of despair and self-destruction already begun by a few years on welfare subsistence."

The report from the commission -- appointed by Alberta New Democrat leader Ray Martin -- condemned government failure to reach a settlement.

Martin set up the group almost a year ago to help break the impasse in negotiations between the Lubicon and the federal and provincial governments.

Negotiations broke off last year when the Lubicon rejected the government's last offer of $73 million and 95 square miles of land. The band is demanding $170 million, including $100 million for oil and gas royalties.

Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak praised the report and urged the governments to act on its recommendations.

Ominayak said the future of the Lubicon depends on a settlement of the land claim.

He accused the governments of stalling negotiations and said "they seem to be looking at dollars rather than helping us survive as a community."

The chief said the objective of the governments "seems to be delay and delay so hopefully they won't have to deal with us in the end because we would have all died off or given up."

It has been "a major job" just trying to hold the northwestern Alberta Cree band together, he said.

The 124-member commission -- comprised of clergy, environmentalists, lawyers and businessmen -- has been largely ignored by both levels of government sine it began holding hearings last May.

Oblate Father Jacques Johnson, co-chair of the commission, said "The governments' unwillingness to participate is something that we deeply regret because they are elected officials and we wanted to know what their positions were and why they held certain positions."

The commission also recommends that oil and gas revenues from operations on land belonging to the Lubicon Indians be held in trust until a settlement is reached.

The commission also endorsed the Lubicon band's $100 million compensation request, recommending the cost be borne equally by both levels of government.

And it says if a deal cannot be reached in six months, the dispute should be turned over to a third party, such as the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

The Commission's principal finding is that the governments have not acted in good faith, said Klimek.

"The provincial government has passed retroactive legislation (to undermine legal claims) and has appropriated the natural resources from the disputed area," she said.

"This has adversely affected the Lubicon's bargaining position by limiting their legal rights and by limiting their financial resources."

The commission also says it has no indication that the federal government was acting in the interest of the Lubicon Cree. "Instead, they took an adversarial stance. The government has the responsibility to act not as an adversary, but as a partner with the Lubicon people."

The commission found that "the Lubicon have acted in good faith in negotiations" and that their proposal, "based on the need for community viability, represents a fairer basis for settlement than the proposals of the federal government."

Representatives of both the Alberta and the federal governments said they would soon provide a reaction to the commission's report.

Wayne Hanna, spokesperson for federal Indian Affairs Minister Tom Siddon, said Ottawa recognizes that the Lubicon have an outstanding land claim and is committed to continue negotiations until a mutually accepted resolution is found.

Canadian church leaders have long been involved in Lubicon issues. In 1984 and again in June 1992, church delegations visited the area to assess the land rights negotiations and to reaffirm solidarity with the Cree nation of Lubicon Lake. A World Council of Churches team visited the area in 1983.

Rev. Stan McKay, moderator of the United Church of Canada, visited the Lubicon earlier this year and said conditions at the settlement of Little Buffalo are similar to those in the Third World.

"The present situation of the Lubicon people cannot be tolerated," McKay said in a prepared statement.

"The suffering of the Lubicon people is very real. Their lives are unraveling because of their marginalization and poverty. We cannot pretend any longer that we don't have situations like this in this country."

McKay doubts that the governments will act on the report and urged "public pressure in order to bring the governments where they cannot ignore the recommendations of the commission."

Johnson, the Oblate, told reporters the report should make a difference even if it is ignored by the governments. "One of the advantages of this report is that it is public" and cannot be shelved by the governments, he said.

"Ultimately, it is the power of the people that will make a difference."

Johnson said that although the work of the commission has officially ended, the group "will be available to people, to groups for presentations."

He also said the commission is willing "to meet with the federal and provincial parties to discuss this issue."

"We are not going to give up," Johnson said. "We are going to be involved until a solution is reached."

John Stellingwerff, chair of the Interfaith Committee for Aboriginal Rights, said he is optimistic government leaders will take the report seriously.

"If nothing happens, I think we'll see action on the ground," he said. "The Lubicons will assert their jurisdiction unilaterally. There will be more Okas, more blockades."

Linda Winski of the Social Justice Commission of the Edmonton Archdiocese said now that the report is out people must pressure elected officials to act on its recommendations.

"It is crucial that citizens of this country begin to hold elected officials accountable," she said. The Lubicon situation shows "a clear abuse of power by people in both levels of government."

Winski said copies of the report will be available at the Social Justice Commission office, 420-1306.

Attachment #8:

Editorial appearing in March 22, 1993, edition of the Western Catholic Reporter


The federal government's offer of $73 million to the Lubicon Cree may sound like a generous amount to help a few hundred people build their own local economy. The Lubicons' request for $170 million may sound exorbitant.

They story of how Ottawa -- with able assistance from the Alberta government -- has continually mistreated the Lubicon people since 1939 has often been told. The government repeatedly failed to reach a treaty agreement with the Lubicon, allowed massive oil and gas exploration on their traditional lands thus destroying their livelihood, and otherwise manipulated the situation to foster the exploitation and degradation of the Lubicon people.

"But," one might reply, "that was then and this is now. Ottawa has offered the Lubicon their own reserve and many millions of dollars. The Lubicon are being obstinate and greedy in asking for more."

The report of the independent Lubicon Settlement Commission of Review punctures that balloon. The commission -- established by Alberta New Democrat leader Ray Martin to find a way of resolving the Lubicon impasse -- concludes that the Band is not asking for anywhere near as much as it is rightfully entitled to.

The Lubicon want to change from a reliance on hunting and trapping to an agricultural economy. The commission, based on a study by Koliger Schmidt Architects and Engineers, says "the Lubicon proposal is perhaps unrealistic to achieve the objectives because their figures are too low."

Ottawa says the settlement should be based on a concept of fairness, not on the needs of the Lubicon. The Commission replies that the band is entitled to royalties on resources extracted from their lands since 1939 when Ottawa agreed that the Lubicon were a separate band and that they should get their own reserve. On that basis, "monetary settlement based on...`fairness' would far exceed the Lubicon proposal."

The commission also notes the province has received more than $1 billion in royalties from the Lubicon land.

Ottawa's failure to negotiate seriously with the Lubicon, its refusal to send representatives to appear before the independent commission and its refusal to heed international condemnation of its treatment of the band bear witness to its continuing bad faith in this process. One can only conclude that the government is motivated more by financial concerns than by any sense of fairness.

One must also conclude that the Lubicons' willingness to accept less than they deserve is motivated by the urgency of reaching a settlement. During the 1980s, the number of Lubicon on welfare increased from 10 percent to 90 percent of the band. Maintaining the social fabric of the band depends on reaching a settlement soon.

Others, however, have no sense of urgency. The Edmonton Journal placed its story on the commission's report at the bottom of Page 7 on a slow news day. The Journal's placement perhaps reflects a judgment that this report is simply the latest chapter in an ongoing saga in which people have lost interest.

If that is true-- if we as a community do not care about the Lubicon -- then there is more than the government to blame. For we cannot call ourselves Christians if we sit silently while the society and livelihood of a people living in our backyard is systematically destroyed.

Glen Argan

Attachment #9:

Editorial appearing in the March 24, 1993, edition of The Edmonton Journal


Native Affairs Minister Mike Cardinal dismisses the latest report on the Lubicon Lake land claim because it contains "nothing new". He should read it again with an open mind.

The Lubicon Settlement Commission of Review does offer a few promising ideas which might help bring an end to Alberta's most enduring controversy. Like many Tories, Cardinal refuses to consider the advice because of the source. His skepticism is understandable but he shouldn't let it blind him.

True, the commission had a grander title than it deserved. Recognizing that public interest in the Lubicon dispute was flagging, NDP Leader Ray Martin asked a cross-section of Albertans last fall to compare the relative merits of the federal government's proposals in 1989 and 1992, and the band's draft agreement in response. His hope was that fresh publicity would spark action.

The project might have been a helpful exercise if Ottawa and the provincial government had explained their own positions at the commission's public hearings. Unfortunately, they refused the invitation.

The result is a one-dimensional report from 12 loyal friends of the Lubicon -- admittedly, unapologetically, a partisan effort -- but with some practical suggestions that both governments would be wise to consider.

The most unusual idea is that negotiations continue in public. This is usually considered a terrible idea because of the danger of posturing. Yet each side in the triangular Lubicon case has accused the other of bad-faith bargaining for so long that the public is thoroughly confused about what the Lubicons need, and what Ottawa and Alberta are really offering. Open sessions might speed up the negotiations by putting everything on the table. The Lubicon Band is willing to go this route.

The commission also says it's time to end the band's futile discussions with "government officials who have no decision-making power". Future negotiations should be conducted with the minister of Indian Affairs, or the prime minister, the provincial minister of native affairs or the Alberta premier. The Lubicons managed to attract Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's fleeting personal attention just before the last election and former premier Don Getty's genuine interest after the road blockade of October 1968. Could Premier Ralph Klein send Getty to Ottawa with the authority to push for a Lubicon agreement?

To open up the talks, the commission recommends that Ottawa and the Lubicon band each appoint an independent mediator, and agree on a third person, to serve on a tribunal which would assess both positions. A fair idea.

The report also suggests that all energy royalties from traditional Lubicon lands be held in trust, beginning immediately, to encourage both governments to settle the file. It recommends that Ottawa, the province and the Lubicons return to E. Davie Fulton's report to the federal government in 1986 as a basis for renewed negotiations. Meanwhile, Alberta should honor the promise of the Grimshaw Accord, a deal signed by Getty and Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak in 1988, and allocate 95-square-miles for a reserve without prejudice to the rest of the negotiations.

The report's weaker suggestions can be put aside. The commissioners suggest, for example, that both governments refer the dispute to the United Nations human rights committee if no resolution can be found in six months. Forget it. This is a Canadian problem which should be settled in Canada.

It's easy for Cardinal to say he doesn't approve of "public meetings and public grandstanding" to end the controversy. What are his suggestions? Ominayak has tried everything else to resolve his band's legitimate, 50-year-old grievance: negotiations with governments, court challenges, numerous commissions of inquiry, speaking tours, pleas to the United Nations, Olympic boycotts, protest demonstrations and road blockades.

If Alberta's native affairs minister is impatient with the story that's been told a thousand times, he isn't alone. He shouldn't use compassion fatigue, however, as an excuse to ignore worthy advice. At this point in the Lubicon saga, almost anything is worth a try.

Attachment #10:

March 25, 1993, letter from Red Deer resident John Hamer to The Edmonton Journal

Dear Editor:

It's a bit late and also naive to consider the Lubicon dispute a strictly Canadian problem which should be settled in Canada. Canada has been in the business of dispossessing natives of their lands and their rights for so long, it regards the practice as legitimate. If Canada was capable of protecting the rights of the Lubicon, the UN Human Rights Committee would never have considered the case. But after 3 years of deliberation, the UN found that Lubicon appeals for justice before Canadian courts were a total waste of time.

The government of Canada is committed to obstructing justice for the Lubicon. Written requests to the federal Minister of Indian Affairs for information about the Lubicon are answered with deliberate distortions of the facts. The most glaring and the most repeated piece of misinformation is that the UN found Canada's 1989 settlement offer to be acceptable. There's no way the Minister of Indian Affairs could show up at the Lubicon Settlement Commission of Review, or any other public hearing, and get away with spouting drivel like that.

The present government of Canada shows no aptitude for dealing fairly or honourably with the Lubicon. Which is more discomforting, UN human rights mediators in Canada or the continued denial of basic human rights for native people?

Attachment #11:

Column by Fil Fraser appearing in the March 25, 193, edition of The Toronto Star


A huge buck has taken up residence in a basement office in the Alberta legislature. You can't quite see it, but its presence is palpable.

The buck is the Lubicon land claim,and it has stopped on the desk of Mike Cardinal, minister of social services in the Alberta government, also responsible for native affairs.

Cardinal may represent the last, best chance to stop the buck passing and resolve an issue that has been on provincial and federal agendas for decades.

Others have tried, and failed.

During his brief tenure as federal minister of Indian Affairs, David Crombie appointed Davie Fulton, a retired judge and former federal justice minister, as a special envoy to study the Lubicon situation. But soon after Fulton turned in his report, Crombie was transferred.

His successor, Bill McKnight, came in with a mandate, according to some sources, to "lower expectations". Fulton's report was shelved. It has never been made public.

Later, former Alberta premier Don Getty took a personal interest in the issue and signed the "Grimshaw accord", recognizing the Lubicon land claim. But the federal government's offer, an integral part of the deal, was rejected. Getty did not follow up.

Earlier this month, a commission of inquiry into the Lubicon land claim called for public resumption of negotiations based on the Fulton report.

In a terse history the report, commissioned by the opposition NDP, said the Lubicon Cree were simply missed when government officials went into northern Alberta to negotiate Treaty 8. These officials did not venture off the main trails and waterways, so when the treaty was signed in 1899, the Lubicon were not present. In 1933 the Lubicons petitioned the federal government to include them in the treaty. In 1939 the federal government recognized them as a separate band but no treaty was signed.

In the 1940s government officials removed scores of names from the band list in order to cut down expenses -- the size of reserves is determined by the number of members.

In the 1970s the Lubicons' territory became the site of some of the most intensive oil exploration in Alberta, and through the 1980s billions of dollars worth of oil and gas was taken.

By the 1990s the new resource was timber, with provincial government leases being awarded to log the Lubicons' traditional lands.

The impact of oil exploration and logging on trapping and hunting is, in a word, devastating. The traditional native economy dried up in less than a generation. Most Lubicons now live on welfare.

Chief Bernard Ominayak, their self-assured, soft-spoken leader has become a kind of international folk hero since he organized a boycott of the 1988 Calgary Olympics and took the Lubicons' case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

Now the file is on Mike Cardinal's desk. The minister was born and raised in the same northern Alberta country as Ominayak. Both men have hunted and trapped, both speak the same Cree language.

Last week Cardinal let it be known that he was prepared to sit down privately over coffee with Chief Ominayak to discuss the issues on a personal basis. Ominayak says there is no point in sitting down with Cardinal to have a private cup of coffee -- he wants to begin serious, open negotiations.

This week Cardinal went further. He told me that he was prepared to meet Ominayak on his turf in northern Alberta, or in some neutral place. The meeting could be open or closed, lawyers could be present or not, the media could be in the room if Ominayak wanted them there.

Speaking directly to Ominayak via a taped message on my television show, Cardinal said, in Cree, that he was prepared to sit down with the chief and his elders to open negotiations.

Cardinal has the support of Premier Ralph Klein and, he told me, he believes he can move the federal government toward a settlement.

Has the buck finally stopped? We'll see. It's certainly been passed long enough.

Fil Fraser, an Edmonton writer and broadcaster, is former chairman of the Alberta Human Rights Commission.