Lubicon: Unocal / Aboriginal Rights Coalition debate

Lubicon Lake Indian Nation
Little Buffalo Lake, Alberta
Phone: 403-629-3945
Fax: 403-629-3939

Mailing address:
3536 - 106 Street
Edmonton, Alberta T6J 1A4
Phone: 403-436-5652
Fax: 403-437-0719

June 2, 1996

Enclosed for your information are copies of a self-explanatory exchange of correspondence between the Co-Chair of the Aboriginal Rights Coalition Lorraine Land and Unocal Canada President Fritz Perschon. Mr. Perschon made similar comments during a meeting in New York with the Interchurch Committee on Corporate Responsibility.

The New York meeting was called to discuss a resolution of the Lubicon situation which the Securities Exchange Commission has ruled has to be entertained at Unocal's Annual General Meeting outside of Los Angles on June 3rd. Comments made by Mr. Perschon during the New York meeting, and echoed in remarks made in his letter to Ms. Land, constitute a kind of contemporary version of the 19th century gospel of Manifest Destiny; namely, that it's not only the right but the duty of white Anglo-Saxon protestant resource exploitation companies like Unocal to transform the land and resources of the world into wealth necessary to heal the sick, clothe the naked. educate the ignorant and provide for the retirement years of elderly Unocal shareholders.

Mr. Perschon clearly takes this role of evangelist for old-style corporate colonialism seriously despite its overtly racist, imperialist and mercenary implications.

At one point during the meeting Mr. Perschon said solemnly "I have a responsibility to all Canadians to help pay for education and welfare -- not only to the Lubicons". He announced proudly "I'm carrying that forward".

At another point during the meeting Mr. Perschon rejected the suggestion that Unocal bears some responsibility for the plight of the Lubicon because Unocal profits from it. He said "Saying that the land was stolen is just history". He said "That happens everywhere".

Mr. Perschon indignantly charged that the religious shareholders moving the Lubicon resolution are "asking me to make a decision on peoples' pension income to reduce their pension income".

Mr. Perschon angrily asked religious shareholders "Are you guys talking to the Jews about getting them out of Israel?" He said "They took that land from the Arabs".

Thus clearly assured of the righteousness of Unocal's actions in carrying out a great eternal plan on behalf of all mankind, it's no wonder that Mr. Perschon is annoyed with such trifling complaints that he's complicit in the genocide of a small indigenous society.

Mr. Perschon needs to be firmly disabused of the notion that he has a divine mandate to do what he does. The idea that Unocal profits are synonymous with the onward and upward march of western civilization is a truly frightening one.

Attachment 1:

Letter from Loraine Land, Co-Chair of the Aboriginal Rights Coalition (Project North) to Fritz Perschon.

Aboriginal Rights Coalition (Project North)
151, Laurier E.
Ottawa, Ontario
K1N 6N8
Tel: (613) 235-9956
Fax: (613) 235-1302

May 9, 1996

Mr. Fritz H. Perschon, Jr.
President and General Manager
Unocal Canada Limited
150 - 6th Avenue, S.W., Box 999
Calgary, Alberta T2P 2K6
PH: (403) 268 - 0176/FX: (403) 268 - 0153

Dear Mr. Perschon:

I am writing on behalf of the Aboriginal Rights Coalition (Project North). ARC is the collective voice of Canadals national churches working on Aboriginal justice issues in partnership with Aboriginal peoples and community groups. The coalition partners include the Anglican, United, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, and Christian Reformed denominations in Canada, the Mennonite Central Committee, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), the Missionary Oblates and the Jesuits. The coalition is comprised of a network of Canadians - Native and non-Native who are involved with Aboriginal issues at the regional and local levels in many parts of Canada. You may recall that ARC national church representatives spoke as intervenors at the ERCB hearings into the Unocal sour gas plant application in 1994, at which you were present.

The Aboriginal Rights Coalition is writing to convey our profound concern and disappointment with a letter you wrote to Ms. Lea Wood on March 8, 1996, in response to a letter Ms. Wood wrote to Prime Minister Jean Chretien regarding the Lubicon Cree. Your letter would seem to indicate a profound ignorance of the Lubicon situation and of the situation of Aboriginal peoples in general. Yet, we know that you have personally monitored this situation closely, especially since it became apparent that the Lubicon were opposing Unocal's construction of a sour gas plant on their traditional territory. We must assume, given your knowledge of the Lubicon situation, that your response is a deliberate attempt to mislead Ms. Wood, and the public, through a serious misrepresentation and distortion of reality.

In your letter you state that the Canadian and Alberta governments have "settled" with "several other aboriginal peoples" and that this forces oneto ask "why a settlement hasn't been possible" with the Lubicon. You then go on to ponder "how much the Lubicon negotiators are responsible for that".

To blame the 'Lubicon for their own plight is a familiar tactic. However, even a cursory familiarity with the Lubicon story reveals the frailty of this assertion. Numerous inquiries into the Lubicon situation, investigating how and why the people have been denied their Aboriginal land rights for the past fifty-six years, has led a number of Canadian and international observers, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and church groups around the world, to conclude that successive Canadian governments are unwilling and the Canadian Courts incapable of effectively addressing Lubicon Aboriginal land rights.' To unknowingly continue to propagate the idea that somehow the Lubicon are to blame for the fact that their land rights are not settled is irresponsible and wrong. To knowingly communicate this idea is offensive.

In response to Ms. Wood's "theory" that "the plight of the Lubicon is entirely the fault of unrestricted resource development" you say that "to give that theory any validity" she needs to answer two questions:

1. Why hasn't this development had the same effect on the other aboriginal groups in this same area who are thriving under the same amount of development?

2. There are areas in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan that have much higher concentrations of resource development, again, with no adverse affects.

Mr. Perschon, how can you make these statements when undoubtedly you are aware of the Lubicon situation and of the general condition of First Nations communities in Canada? These statements make it hard for ARC to believe that you are not purposely trying to mislead someone who has written to you out of concern for the Lubican people.

The immense amount and value of resources that are extracted daily from Lubicon territory, with no benefits flowing to the Lubicon, is an abhorrent reality that is repeated over and over again from coast to coast in First Nations communities. The negative impact on First Nations in Canada of this enormous resource exploitation is known worldwide and the resulting negative international attention is an ongoing source of humiliation for the Canadian government. Significantly lower life expectancy, high suicide rates, third world living conditions, high rates of TB and illiteracy are facts of life for many Aboriginal people in Canada. How do you justify your statements in light of this well-documented reality?

ARC, and its predecessor Project North, has monitored Aboriginal land and other rights for twenty five years in Canada. A key issue on which the Coalition liaised with government and conducted public education is the matter of resource development in areas of Canada where Aboriginal land rights settlements have not been completed or are under contention. The Aboriginal Rights Coalition strongly opposes any resource development on aboriginal lands (including Unocalls sour gas processing plant), which takes place before a proper land rights settlement has been concluded, unless there is full and informed consent from the aboriginal community. Most of the national churches in Canada have clear policies opposing development on unceded Aboriginal land until land rights are settled.

Mr. Perschon, ARC has learned that listening to Aboriginal peoples is crucial for building and maintaining meaningful relationships. We perceive a need for ongoing dialogue to work towards reconciliation between Aboriginal peoples and Canadians. We strongly recommend that you undertake to establish meaningful and constructive relationships with the Lubicon and all the First Nations on whose land your organization operates. This will provide an opportunity for you to become more familiar with their particular struggles and will provide you with the information you need to avoid more regrettable statements such those in your letter to Ms. Wood.

We would appreciate a prompt reply as we have promised to share your response with the national churches, network groups, and Aboriginal representatives of the coalition.


Lorraine Land


Attachment 2:

Response to above letter from F. Perschon.

Fritz H. Perschon, Jr.

President and General Manager

Unocal Canada Limited
150 - 6th Avenue S.W., Box 999
Caigary, Alberta T2P 2K6
Telephone (403) 268-0176
FAX (403) 268-0507

May 13,1996

Aboriginal Rights Coalition (Project North)

151 Laurier N.

Ottawa, Ontario

KlN 6N8

Attn: Lorraine Land

Dear Ms. Land:

Thank you for your letter of May 9, 1996. 1 value your input as I know that your organization at least has some first-hand knowledge of the Lubicon situation. If, however, you believe you have all of the truth, then anything that follows in this letter will probably be meaningless.

I will continue on the assumption that you believe that all of us are sinners saved only by the grace of God. I will further assert that the Lubicons and their supporters fall into that group. Therefore, by that very premise, one has to admit that they also are not perfect and are capable of falsehoods. I have heard statements like "Chief Ominayak is beyond reproach," and I have been accused of being the very opposite. The fact is, the Lubicons and their supporters have at times placed themselves above the law and have used illegal and questionable tactics under the assumption that "the end justifies the means". One can publicly see that from what happened in 1988. 1 see nowhere in the Bible where Christ taught or condoned that type of action.

You may not want to believe what I say but, hopefully, you at least would grant me that I know more about how Chief Ominayak has treated Unocal and me personally than you do. You suggest that I undertake to establish meaningful and constructive relationships with the Lubicon. I have indicated a willingness to open dialogue with them. Chief Ominayak is the one who has stated that he is unwilling to be in the same room with a liar like me. Again, I challenge you to show me where this attitude is supported in the Bible.

I stand by my statements to Ms. Lea Wood. I can challenge her to ponder these questions because I have talked to Lubicons who have asked these same questions. Again, you may doubt what I say, but you cannot dismiss the fact that the Woodland Cree (including some former Lubicons) live in the same environment and represent a stark contrast to the Lubicons. You also must know that the Lubicons could have accepted a similar settlement. Whether you see that as a just and fair settlement only you can judge.

I admit that although I want to see and pray for a just and fair settlement for the Lubicons, I do not know what that would entail. I say this on several accounts. First of all, there is so much conflicting data, that I don't know what the truth is in this long standing dispute with the Government. Based on my experience, I cannot take the simple approach that the Lubicons are all truth and the Government is all falsehood. I believe God, not our natural parents and ancestors, has placed us where we are in time and space. The resources of this earth have been given to all people to share, not to claim as their own. Governments have been established to determine this.

I can share with you that Unocal has not made, nor is likely to make one single cent of profit from this project. I can, however, say that through government royalties and taxes, the Canadian public, including the Lubicons via transfer payments, have received revenue. This money has, among other things, gone to fund education, health, infrastructure, security and welfare. In addition, Unocal has supplied ongoing work for several people including 2 Lubicons and many others during the construction phase of this project. Some of their personal income taxes and spending, again, have been recycled to make Canada the great nation that it is.

I will close with two last thoughts. The first is that until people are willing to concede that they do not have all truth and knowledge, and are willing to open their minds to other possibilities, conflicts cannot be resolved. Secondly, I would submit that society becomes better only as people support each other personally, not through legislation or causes. Better individuals elect and make for better governments. I personally am committed to working with the people God gives me day to day. In that way, my service can bear fruit.

I hope these thoughts will help stimulate the minds of your members and supporting churches to effectively let all of us live more productive and supportive lives.


Fritz H. Perschon, Jr.

cc: Ms. Lea Wood