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Lubicon Land Claim Talks Back On Track

Ivan Morin

Negotiations between the Federal Government and the Lubicon Lake Indian Band of Northern Alberta have resumed and the land claim settlement seems closer to being resolved than ever before. The past few months have been trying for Band members and their supporters as the land claim dispute has taken many twists and turns. The Saskatchewan Indian has kept abreast of the story and has been compiling information as it arrived at our office to give our readers the full story space permitting. Recent developments have sparked national and international optimum that the Lubicon claim will finally be settled to the benefit of the Band. An agreement reached between Lubicon Chief, Bernard Ominayak, and Alberta Premier, Don Getty, has put the eventual land claim settlement squarely on the boys of the federal government.

For the benefit of our readers who have recently begun to follow the Lubicon Lake land claim story the Saskatchewan Indian provides the full history of the claim leading up to their recent negotiations with the federal and provincial governments.

The Lubicon Lake Indian Band land claim has a history dating back one hundred years, when the Band was left out of the original Treaty Eight signing by government agents in 1889. When the Government Agents travelled the Treaty Eight district they failed to reach the reserves that were not on the main rivers of Northern Alberta and the Lubicon Indians were a remote Band which were not readily accessible and therefore the Band was discriminately left off the Treaty Eight agreement. Due to this oversight by the federal agents the Lubicons were left without a recognized reserve, and their aboriginal claim to about lO,000 square kilometres of traditional hunting and fishing territory which was rightfully theirs was also jeopardized. At the time of their original claim the Lubicon Nations had numbers between 2500 to 3000 members before an outbreak of influenza killed over 2000 of their numbers lowering their population to an estimated 250 to 300 members.

Through further negotiations in 1939 government agents revisited Lubicon Lake and determined that the Lubicons were a distinct nations and were entitled to a reserve. Due to this finding the federal government in 1940 agreed to set aside 65 square kilometres of land for a reserve, based on a 127 Band membership. But the outbreak of the Second World War the land which was to be surveyed was put on the back burner of the governments agenda. When the war ended the Federal government still failed to return to the reserve to survey the land and the Lubicons were left without a reserve, which was rightfully theirs.

By 1954 the provincial government had found that the land was overflowing with a large oil reserve and Alberta issued an ultimatum to Ottawa that it they did not decide with 60 days to determine if they were going to claim the land for the Lubicons for reserve land. Without a response from Ottawa the Alberta government assumed that Ottawa is not interested and determined that the Lubicon traditional land is free for oil exploration. Ottawa still refused to acknowledge the land for the Lubicon Band and exploration began.

To this the federal government responded by building a mission school at Little Buffalo, some five miles from the traditional lands of the Lubicons, forcing Lubicon children to travel the five miles, most times in sub-zero weather to attend school. This eventually led the Lubicon Band to move to the settlement to Little Buffalo away from home they had known for over a century. Further indisposing the Band, by virtue of the fact that they up root themselves from their traditional lands and move their families and meagre belongings to a new settlement which eroded to an extent of their Aboriginal title to their reserve land at Lubicon Lake.

Due to the oil exploration which was in full swing, the provincial government constructed an all weather road in the area in 1970. Five years later the Lubicons and other Bands filed suit for reserves, citing their Aboriginal rights as a non-treaty group.

The completion of the road in 1979, the drilling of oil wells, roads being bulldozed to appeased the money mongering oil companies, led to the erosion of the Lubicon's traditional way of life, based on hunting and trapping. 1985 saw former B.C. supreme Court Justice, E. Davie Fulton, being commissioned by Ottawa to do a complete study of the plight of the Lubicons. Fulton's recommendation concluded that the Lubicon's were entitled to not of 65 square kilometres of reserve land, but about 270 square kilometres of land based on the 400 Band membership at the time. Not withstanding Ottawa insisted of only 200 members, who were registered Indians, and only those registered on federal record were entitled to land.

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Lubicon Land Claim Talks Back On Track

Ivan Morin

After a number of failed attempts at negotiations, and several federal negotiations between the Band, Ottawa and the Alberta government, Ottawa filed a suit against the Alberta government and the Lubicons in an attempt to have the courts settle the land claims to 233 square kilometres, based on a 437 Band members list. This action was taken May of 1988.

On October 7, 1988 the Lubicons say that the court case may take years to settle and unilaterally declare sovereignty over their land. After a last ditch effort to negotiate with the provincial government failed, the Lubicon Band set up road blocks to keep the oil companies and undesirables off their land.

The peaceful road blocks were set up on October 19, 1988, with support from Lubicon Band and leaders from across Canada, as well, as other Aboriginal groups, church supporters, international supporters from the United Nations and countries abroad. Under the watchful eye of ever present R.C.M.P. the road blocks were kept in place for five days; before a para-military style onslaught of R.C.M.P. officers armed with submachine guns and other weaponry moved in after the Alberta government received a court injunction to remove the road blocks. Backed by hovering helicopters and police dogs the R.C.M.P. arrested 27 Band members and Band supporters and charged them with defying a court order.

After two tense days of negotiations between Lubicon Chief, Bernard Ominayak and Alberta Premier Don Getty, the two agreed to meet one on one to negotiate a settlement to the land claim. After a marathon seven hour meeting in a small Northern Alberta community some 100 kilometres east of Lubicon Lake, Ominayak and Getty were able to reach an historical agreement which virtually gave the Lubicon all they were seeking in there Land claim settlement.

The agreement reached, provides for the Provincial Government to transfer 76 square miles of land to the Federal Government for the purpose of establishing a Lubicon reserve. Alberta has also agreed to sell an additional 16 square miles of land "for the use of the Lubicon Band." The initial 76 square miles includes full surface and sub-surface rights to the land. Whereas, the 16 square miles to be sold includes only surface rights but no development activity on the land without the consent of the Lubicon Band.

Together the two pieces of land total ninety five square miles or about 128 acres per Lubicon member. The 128 acres per person is in accordance with the original Treaty Eight signing which the Lubicon Lake Indian Band was omitted from at the signing of the treaty.

Another provision of the agreement negotiated by Ominayak and Getty is that the Federal Government "will be responsible for the compensation of all third party interests, surface and subsurface, within the seventy nine square mile area .. (as well as) ... for the compensation of all third party surface interest within the 16 square mile area."

Now that the important issue of a reserve for the Lubicon Band is out of the way, a number of other issues must still be negotiated. These include, financial compensation for revenue lost to the Lubicon during the time resource development which occurred on the Lubicon land prior to last month's agreement being reached; the amount of compensation the Lubicon's are looking could exceed 100 million dollars, which suggest that the province has taken as much as five billion dollars in revenues from the area. The second issue, and one Lubicon Band advisor, Fred Lennarson called the most important next to membership, is Lubicon input on wildlife and environmental management and protection.

The final issue of Band membership is seen as the most important by the Band and their advisors. Ominayak and the Band wants to ensure that everyone on their list shares equally in the benefits of any settlement. However, membership must be worked out with Ottawa and Band membership has been a sticking point throughout the Lubicon dispute. But Band advisor, Lennarson says, "if the Band and Alberta continue the spirit of cooperation to resolve, all other matters Ottawa will be hard pressed to block a final agreement on the membership question."

After the agreement between Ominayak and Getty was reached, negotiations broke down briefly due to the continued court action against twenty-two Lubicon Band member and their supporters. The charges against the accused were dropped clearing the way for the resumption of talks on November 30, 1988.

In a recently released Canadian Press,report talks between the Lubicon Indian Band and the Federal Government were reported to have resumed and Lubicon Band advisors, Fred Lennarson says, "that the Federal officials have never been more cooperative, and the government seemed genuinely interested on working on a solution to the problem..." Although a news blackout has been placed on the talks, the Saskatchewan Indian will continue to report on the land claim as the information becomes free.