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No Lifeblood for Oil

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Issue: 28 Section: Original Peoples Geography: North Topics: Indigenous, oil, lubicon

April 28, 2005

No Lifeblood for Oil

Lubicon nation fights oil companies, governments for survival

by Kim Petersen

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Photos: OLS
Near the town of Peace River in northern Alberta is the 10,000 square kilometer Lubicon Lake First Nation traditional territory -- home to about 500 Crees. When the abundance of resources -- in particular, heavy oil -- became apparent on Lubicon traditional territory, the Alberta provincial government began to sell the resource rights to multinational corporations. The exploitation of the unceded territory of the Lubicon Lake First Nation continues unabated. By 2002, over 1,700 well sites and several kilometers of pipelines had been constructed on Lubicon land. In August 2004, Alberta granted oil sands exploration leases to Calgary-based Deep Well Oil and Gas reported to encompass over 101 square kilometers in Lubicon traditional territory. The development has not been without impact on the Lubicon.

A short time ago the Lubicon subsisted from the land. The Ottawa-based group Outaouais Lubicon Solidarity describes the change: "Between 1979 and 1983, annual trapping income dropped 90%. The number of moose killed for food dropped 90% and the number of people on welfare jumped from 10% to over 90%."

They say the federal and Alberta governments are complicit in undermining the Lubicon Lake First Nation.

The Alberta government, says the group, rejected the Lubicon land registry claim, denied the Lubicon nation's existence, belittled the Lubicon as "merely squatters on provincial Crown land" without aboriginal rights, declared the Lubicon community at Little Buffalo to be "an official provincial hamlet," threatened to bulldoze Lubicon homes (but later backed down), sent in RCMP to forcibly dismantle Lubicon barricades on their territory, negotiated the size of a Lubicon reserve in the Grimshaw Accord, and then backed out of the accord.

The federal government has taken similar actions. They are accused of manipulating the Lubicon Band membership list, negotiating by "take-it-or-leave-it" offer, suppressing a federal inquiry report favourable to the Lubicon, resorting to chicanery in Lubicon elections, and financing clear-cut logging operations by neighboring bands within Lubicon traditional territory.

Criticism of the governments' respective roles abounds. The World Council of Churches decried the potential "genocidal consequences" of actions by the Alberta provincial government and oil corporations. The Canadian government was urged to take "immediate action."

In 1987, the United Nations Human Rights Committee asked Canada "to take interim measures of protection to avoid irreparable damage" to the Lubicon Lake First Nation while it investigated. In March 1990, the commission declared that "recent developments threaten the way of life and culture of the Lubicon Lake Cree and constitute a violation of Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights..."

The federal government's own Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) concluded the solution to First Nations' territorial woes was simple: they required a greater share of the lands and resources to survive.

In 1998, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights iterated the RCAP solution and urged "concrete and urgent steps to restore" land and resources to Original Peoples.

Amnesty International was alarmed and demanded respect for Canada's Original Peoples. Scandal-plagued Prime Minister Paul Martin gave his assurance of being "committed to a just settlement of this [Lubicon] land claim …"

Kevin Thomas, a negotiator with the Lubicon Lake First Nation responded, "It's not the first time that we've heard that. Every PM for the last twenty years has said it. … Obviously we're a little cynical when someone makes that statement and doesn't back it up with action."

Deep Well Oil and Gas, Surge Global Energy, Welwyn Resources, and Paradigm Oil and Gas have announced a plan to extract almost 820 million barrels of oil through as many as 512 wells in Lubicon territory. The Lubicon Lake First Nation with environmental NGOs Sierra Club of Canada and Greenpeace asked Canadian Environment Minister Stephane Dion to initiate a federal environmental review of the oil sands project.

Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak said "We believe that it is irresponsible to allow this development to proceed without first dealing with the unresolved jurisdictional issues regarding these lands and without an independent assessment of the environmental, social and economic impacts of this project."

Ominayak expressed concern about harm to the lake fisheries, the depletion and contamination of water resources, and the unknown impacts of massive steam injections into the sensitive boreal muskeg ecosystem.

The effects of potential air pollution, litter, contaminated wastes, and climate change on the flora and fauna, culture, and Lubicon "way of life" were also pressing concerns cited by Ominayak.

Deep Well and its associates, have so far been unresponsive to Lubicon requests for discussion except briefly in response to a Lubicon blockade that reportedly cost the companies $100,000 a day.

In a late response to The Dominion, Deep Well said that "Legal
ownership and beneficial title to the land involved is with the Province of
Alberta."

Thomas paraphrased the Lubicon resistance to co-optation: "Oil companies typically think they can wave some money around and people will jump. The Lubicon community needs money; they don't even have running water at this point. But their first question isn't how much money they can make -- it's what's this going to do to their land and their way of life."

Ominayak's message is urgent: "I hope people will understand we're trying to survive from day to day and need all the help we can get from the general public. It's a battle against time."

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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