Aug 3/98: Federal govt resumes talks with Lubicon


Canadian Press
August 3, 1998

[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only. It may contain biased and distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context.]

EDMONTON (CP) -- After 60 years of talks, blockaded logging roads and a successful international boycott, there may be an inkling of hope for a land claim settlement with the Lubicon Cree of northern Alberta.

But a band adviser warns it's the same old issues that could get in the way -- land and band membership. "If you've got land and membership, you've got the building blocks for a settlement," said Fred Lennarson.

The federal government is scheduled to sit down in Peace River, Alta., today with band negotiators for the first time in about 18 months to try to settle the claim, which dates back to the early 1930s.

It gained international notoriety in 1988, when the band the New York Times called "the tribe Canada forgot" blockaded logging roads into what they called their territory, about 450 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

International sympathizers helped the tiny Cree band win concessions from the Japanese multinational pulp and paper company Daishowa-Marubeni with a boycott the company said cost it about $20 million. The boycott was lifted earlier this summer after Daishowa promised not to log the disputed lands.

This round of talks will centre on a detailed settlement proposal tabled by the Lubicon last fall.

They are asking for 246 square kilometres, $72 million for housing and services and about $33 million to help build local industry and agriculture in their impoverished community.

They also want $120 million in compensation from Ottawa and Alberta for forestry and energy resources already removed from the land.

"We'll settle down at one end of these proposals and start going through them one by one," said Lennarson.

But the central questions remain the ones that halted talks in mistrust in late 1996 -- the interrelated issues of land and membership.

"If you've got no agreement (on those), you don't know where you're going to put the house and you don't know who you're building it for," said Lennarson.

Discussions hung up over the questions of who belongs to the band and how they are counted, which in turn determines how much land the band would get.

Although the Lubicon are negotiating with the federal government, the land for any reserve is owned by the province.

Alberta has offered 2.6 square kilometres for every five eligible band members. Those are the terms of Treaty 8, signed in 1898 by other area bands but not the Lubicon.

A 1989 offer from the province of 246 square kilometres in total, not based on band numbers, was rescinded under Premier Ralph Klein after some band members broke away from the Lubicon.

After the breakaways, disagreement arose over whether there are 300 or 500 Lubicon.

The Lubicon have already turned down a federal offer that included $73 million for infrastructure but left out resource compensation and economic start-up money.

Negotiations began creaking back into life this year after Brad Morse, an Ottawa academic and former Indian Affairs bureaucrat, was appointed head federal negotiator.

Morse has said the Lubicon have been "shafted" in the past and has called the band's story a "black mark" on Canada's record.

Although he has expressed optimism a deal could be reached this summer, he has also warned that negotiations will be tough.

Still, Lennarson is guardedly optimistic.

"Hopefully, this round will be a serious, productive negotiation and we'll get somewhere," he said.

"We've heard wonderful things many times before and they have not produced a settlement."

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