New Indian Affairs Minister on Lubicon

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 20, 1993

Attached for your information is a copy of a newspaper article regarding a recent visit to Edmonton by the new Federal Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin.

Asked by reporters about the question of unresolved Indian land rights, Mr. Irwin is quoted as saying that he's "waiting for a consensus on the role of the (independent Indian land claims) commission the Liberals promised during the federal election campaign".

Asked by reporters about settlement of Lubicon land rights, Mr. Irwin is quoted as saying:

"This is a priority. I want to get over there as soon as possible. It's one of the top four places to get to within the next few months. There's nothing scheduled, but it's on the priority list".

The idea of establishing an Indian Land Claims Commission independent of the Government and Government bureaucracy is a good one. However it's not a new idea and it will be tough, complicated and time-consuming to put in place. It's been around for at least 20 years and will have to be negotiated with Indian leaders and organizations -- never an easy, simple nor speedy process.

Hopefully it will be possible for the Government to negotiate resolution of situations as urgent and potentially explosive as the Lubicon situation simultaneously with work to establish an independent Indian Land Claims Commission. Resolution of Lubicon land rights simply can't await development of an independent Indian Land Claims Commission -- no matter how desirable the creation of an independent Indian Land Claims Commission might be.

Neither should it be necessary for an independent Indian Land Claims Commission to review and render a decision on how to fairly and equitably resolve Lubicon land rights. The facts of the Lubicon situation have been independently reviewed time after time always with the same basic conclusion.

In 1983 the World Council of Churches reviewed over 10,000 pages of documentation and concluded that the Lubicon people face genocide as the result of Government directed resource exploitation activity in the unceded Lubicon territory.

In 1985 Ministerially appointed Federal Inquiry Officer E. Davie Fulton spent nearly a year reviewing the Lubicon situation and recommended essentially that Lubicon settlement terms should be accepted by both levels of Canadian Government -- a recommendation which he reiterated as recently as last year in testimony before the Lubicon Settlement Commission.

In 1987 -- after three years of deliberations and a number of submissions by both sides -- the UN Human Rights Committee concluded that the Lubicon people could not achieve effective legal or political redress within Canada and that the Committee would therefore agree to hear a Lubicon complaint against Canada under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In 1990 -- after three more years of submissions and deliberations -- the UN Human Rights Committee reaffirmed its earlier procedural decision on admissibility and found Canada to be in violation of Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights so long as "historical inequities...and certain other recent developments (continue) to threaten the way of life and culture of the Lubicon people".

And last year -- after reviewing and hearing testimony regarding both Government and Lubicon settlement proposals -- the independent, broad-based Lubicon Settlement Commission concluded, among other things:

To quote Prime Minister Jean Chretien a year ago when he was in Opposition:

"For more than fifty years the Lubicon have struggled to secure a permanent land base -- and the means to preserve their way of life...(the Liberals) believe that the (then Conservative) government has reneged on its fiduciary responsibility to the Lubicon people. Time is wasting. Innumerable studies and reports have been prepared over past years and they have only served to slow progress in the negotiations for a land and resource base. It is time for action. As a start, (the Liberals) believe the government should proceed with recommendation number five of the Lubicon Settlement Commission report to hold all royalties in trust and withhold leases and permits on traditional Lubicon lands -- unless approved by the Lubicons. Moreover, future negotiations should reflect the intent of (Lubicon Settlement Commission) recommendation number eight, asserting that the extinguishment of Aboriginal rights must not be a condition for a settlement -- a position consistent with Liberal policy...(the Liberals) support the swift resolution of all claims and consider the Lubicon claim to be a priority."

It would be good if people would write Messrs. Chretien and Irwin, remind them of Mr. Chretien's words only last year when he was in Opposition, and urge them to proceed simultaneously with the development of an independent Indian Land Claims Commission and with speedy resolution of Lubicon land rights along the lines recommended by both Federal Inquiry Officer E. Davie Fulton and by the independent, broad-based Lubicon Settlement Commission.

The Edmonton Journal, Friday, November 19, 1993


Indian Affairs Minister says he'll act on `delicate' controversy

Jack Danylchuk

Native Affairs Writer


Canada's new minister of Indian Affairs says he's prepared to act on the controversial issue of control over band membership, but wants input from chiefs first.

"It's really delicate because of so much politics involved," Ron Irwin told 250 Indian leaders who gathered from across Canada for an oil and gas conference Thursday.

"I need more guidance. I'm prepared to move either way, but I have to have direction from the chiefs."

In a lawsuit led by Conservative Senator Walter Twinn, chief of the wealthy Sawridge band at Slave Lake, prominent Alberta Indians are fighting federal claims to control who can be a member of an Indian band.

The trial opened in Federal Court in Edmonton this fall and has moved to Ottawa, but a final decision is not expected for at least two years because of anticipated appeals.

Twinn's challenge springs from Bill C-31, an amendment to the Indian Act in 1985 that restored Indian status to thousands of persons, including women who had married non-Indians. Bands were left to develop their own membership rules.

Introduced to the conference as "a minister who is on our side," Irwin was clearly sympathetic to the concerns some chiefs have with the impact of C-31.

"No one anticipated that there would be so much of a move back to the reserves," said Irwin, a Sault Ste. Marie lawyer who often represented Indian interests in lawsuits against the federal government.

Band councils have complained that the federal government has not given them enough money to build houses for reinstated members and reserve residents who are also waiting for homes.

"We caused that with Bill C-31. We have to go back and look at that and try to solve the problem".

Irwin was appointed Indian Affairs minister just 10 days ago and in his first major address, he promised action on native self-government and justice.

"My marching orders are very clear," Irwin said quoting from the Liberals' red policy book: "We will act on the premise that the inherent right to self-government is an existing aboriginal and treaty right".

In the area of native justice, Irwin cited developments in Michigan, where in five years the Chippewa have established their own law enforcement officers, judge and court.

"It works, it really works," said Irwin. "Where we're having trouble is with the provinces. They don't like giving up the jurisdiction."

The chiefs hope to take control over Indian oil and gas resources now in the hands of the federal government. Irwin said he supports the move, but was cautious.

"That cannot be instantly achieved," said Irwin. "With the transfer comes financial and administrative obligations. If you take it over, you've got the problems that go with it."

The chiefs peppered Irwin with questions about his position on native-owned casinos and taxation on reserves.

"If every first nation put up a casino they'd all go broke," said Irwin, who supports the idea of native-owned casinos but is concerned with gambling addiction and economics.

Irwin warned chiefs that the taxation issue "is tricky".

"You have to look 10 or 15 years beyond; to the time when you are self-governing. If businesses on reserve don't pay taxes, how are you going to operate?...How are you going to raise money?"

Questioned about outstanding land claims, Irwin said that he is waiting for a consensus on the role of the commission the Liberals promised during the federal election campaign.

Reporters asked Irwin about the Lubicon Lake Cree, who have been waiting for a settlement for more than a decade.

"This is a priority. I want to get over there as soon as possible. It's one of the top four places to get to within the next few months. There's nothing schedule, but it's on the priority list."