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"This protest is not to protest the "Share the Flame" Olympic Torch Relay, but to bring the concerns of the Lubicon Lake Cree Band land claims to the surface and to expose those people who are doing the most damage to their culture and land, Petro-Canada, to the people of Canada. We share the enthusiasm of the "Share the Flame" run, but we want people to know we have concerns about Petro-Canada and other oil companies who are destroying the Lubicon Band's traditional homelands and culture."
This was the statement from one of the organizers of the Lubicon Lake Cree Band's protest following the Canadian Olympic Torch Relay, which passed through Saskatoon on Monday, January 18,1988. Over 100 placard carrying Native and non- Native supports braved minus 20 Celsius weather for more than two hours to support the northern Alberta Band in their attempt to bring to the attention of the Canadian people their land claims dispute with the Federal and Alberta governments.
The protest which began in Saint John, Newfoundland, on the heels of the carefully orchestrated Canadian Olympic Torch Relay across the country's ten provinces and two territories has picked up pace as it nears it's final destination, Calgary, Alberta, where the 1988 edition of the Winter Olympics are scheduled to start on February 13. The turnout for the Saskatoon protest was greater than expected by both the Saskatoon organizers and Lubicon Lake Chief Bernard Ominayak. Ominayak has been following the "flame" since it began it's journey across the country; "It's great to see so many people out here in support of us, especially on a cold day like today. It makes me feel really good, because we didn't expect this kind of turnout." said Ominayak.
Support for the Saskatchewan protest came from reserves from all nations and corners of the province. Also showing their support were many non-Status, Metis and non-Native people.
Vern Bellegarde, First Vice-President of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) said, "The Saskatchewan Indian First Nations are here to lend moral support to the Lubicon Band, because their struggle and what comes out of it will effect all the first nations of Canada." The FSIN were also visible at a protest in Regina.
Since the beginning of the protest in Newfoundland, the protest has seen the numbers in the size of their demonstrations vary from one lone protester on the side of a road outside a reserve in Nova Scotia, to hundreds of supporters on the Kahnawake Reserve. The protest has also seen the support of all native political groups, a number of church and human rights groups and some university student groups, such as the University of Saskatchewan Aboriginal Student's Council, who helped organize the Saskatoon protest.
The Council says that the struggles that the Lubicon are having today will impact on their generation and that through demonstrations or protests such as the Lubicon are leading now, a greater awareness will be realized and will enhance the native position in the future. "We the younger people, have come to realize that we have to understand our past, so that we can plan for tomorrow." says Tyrone Tootoosis, spokesman for the Council.
To find the roots of the Lubicon Lake protest, one must go back to 1899 when Federal officials and translators took up their canoes and travelled the main waterways of northern Alberta signing Indian groups for Treaty Eight. The agreement
This treaty is to one extent or another still in effect today, but when the government agents negotiated this treaty, they failed to contact the Indian bands who lived off the main rivers of Alberta and in the bush country. One of those bands was the Lubicon Lake Band. The Lubicons hunted and trapped a large part of the land north of Lesser Slave Lake in northern Alberta and remoteness denied them access to Treaty Eight.
At the signing of the Treaty, the Band is said to have had over 3,000 members. An influenza epidemic hit the band in the early 1920's and killed most of it's members leaving less than 200 members. In 1939, band members lobbied government officials for a reserve for the remaining members of the band. At the time of the first lobby the band was promised land for a reserve. With the start of the Second World War the band took a back seat on the governments agenda.
In the early 1940's names of registered Indians from the reserve list started to disappear. Sometimes whole families were lost in some obscure file reducing the number of the bands membership. The names of those who's names were struck from the official band list were then declared to be non-status Indians.
By 1950 and on through the decade, oil companies were invited to start exploring in the region. The surveying which had been delayed by the war was forgotten until 1952 when the Alberta government requested clarification from the Federal government on the land set aside for the reserve due to the increasing inquires for minerals on the land of the Lubicons. After the federal government failed to reply, the province of Alberta proceeded as if there were no promised reserve and that the Lubicons had no right to the land they occupied.
Through the latter part of the 1960's the Band successfully lobbied to have a school built for their members. The school was built in 1969, but not where the Lubicons wanted, it was in fact built at Little Buffalo, five miles away from the reserve land. With their children having to endure a five mile walk to school or ride the distance in open wagons. The Band chose to uproot itself and move to Little Buffalo.
The Bands economic and social conditions rapidly deteriorates through the next decade. Animals began to migrate out of the regions because of exploration by the oil exploration and the bulldozing of miles upon miles of bush and muskeg. By the end of the decade Band members could barely catch enough wildlife to feed their families. Because of these conditions alcoholism became a problem in the community, as well as many other social problems. A legal caveat was filed by the Lubicon Band in 1975 claiming legal interest in a large section of Northern Alberta. They wanted their aboriginal land claims settled before large scale development began. Alberta refused and by the end of 1976 it became apparent, through the Paulette court case in the Northwest Territories, that Alberta's law might favor granting of the caveat. In March 1977, the Lougheed government passed Bill 29 which retroactively changed this law. The caveat case was then dismissed as having no legal basis.
In 1979 the Alberta government completed an all purpose road into Little Buffalo from Peace River, some 100 kilometres southeast of Little Buffalo. The road led to an influx of oil companies. In the first year the road was in operation over 30 oil wells had been drilled. The following year saw 40 wells drilled and the next year there were 100 wells on the Lubicon land.
By 1982 oil royalties were reported to exceed $1 million dollars a day, operating a trap line was no longer profitable for the Lubicon people. Yearly incomes from trapping range from an average of several thousand dollars to $450.90 percent of the people were forced to apply for welfare.
Having seen enough and foreseeing the total genocidal death of his their people the band hired James O'Reilly, a Montreal lawyer from the legal team whom help settle the James Bay Agreement. From 1982 through to 1984 the Band filed a number of legal challenges all proving unsuccessful.
By 1985, over 400 wells had been dug within a fifteen mile radius of Little Buffalo. The Federal government hired E. Davie Fulton as mediator. Fulton laid the blame for failure to settle the aboriginal claim on the federal government. In his report to the government Fulton recommended that the Lubicon be
In December, 1985, the provincial government offered the Lubicon 25.4 square miles of land on the condition that the band drop all legal actions. The band refused and demanded 90 square miles of reserve land plus financial compensation.
In early 1976, the Lubicon Indian Band came to world prominence as they took their plight to the international forum, lobbying a number of international government and influential bodies. The Band went as far as to call for a boycott of the winter Olympics, to be held in Calgary, Alberta in early 1988. "The Spirit Sings", the flagship exhibition of Indian artifacts at the Glenbow museum became the target for the boycott. Chief Bernard Ominayak says it's an irony that Shell Canada, a major developer, destroying the land of the Lubicon, is the sole corporate sponsor of an art exhibit that will showcase native culture. Ominayak says those who support the games are supporting the genocidal policies of the Alberta provincial government and their oil allies.
In May, 1976, Roger Tasse was appointed to represent Ottawa in bilateral discussions with the Lubicons. Ominayak pulled out of. negotiations in July, 1986, after Ottawa insisted it would only recognize 200 Band members - by Ominayak's count, his Band numbered 450 persons. The Lubicon insisted on terms of Treaty Eight, and on the Bands right that they have to determine their own membership.
It has recently been reported that the Federal and Provincial government will continue to negotiate without the involvement of the Lubicon Band.
With no resolution in sight, the Lubicon continue to push their claim through the courts and the world political arena.