In the late 1800's, the Lubicons were overlooked by crown agents who were signing Native nations to Treaty 8. They were just too far in the bush, away from major rivers, and so the Lubicons were left alone to pursue their traditional hunting and trapping lifestyle. As a result they never signed away or lost their lands in war, and retain aboriginal rights to those lands to this day.
Although they were recognized in 1939 by the federal government and promised a reserve settlement, both bureaucratic bungling and racist policies kept a settlement waiting and the Lubicons were forgotten once more. In fact they were left pretty much alone until 1979, when an all-weather road was built into their territory. Massive oil and gas deposits had been discovered in the area and, armed with provincial government leases, almost every major oil and gas company moved in, drilling at least 400 oil wells within a fifteen-mile radius of the Lubicon community.
Industrial development completely devastated Lubicon society. Moose, the staple of the Lubicon diet, fled the area, along with most of the smaller animals which formed the basis of the trapping trade. Practically overnight an intact and self-sufficient community was reduced to dependency on welfare. Society began to break down: skills passed from old to young had no value any more; alcoholism surfaced; the Lubicons experienced their first suicides; babies were still-born and a widespread tuberculosis epidemic swept through the community. Meanwhile over $8 billion (Cdn) in oil and gas revenues have been sucked from Lubicon territories.
But the Lubicons have met this challenge with a very determined resistance. They began by challenging the province and the federal government in the courts. The courts were a dead end: former oil company lawyers turned judges dismissed their arguments; the provincial government re-wrote laws retroactively to dismiss Lubicon court cases; the Lubicons were denied the right to sue the feds; and ultimately the courts tied up Lubicon resources and time while development went on unabated. In fact even the United Nations Human Rights Committee determined that the Lubicons could not achieve effective legal redress within Canada.
The next few years saw increased conflict in northern Alberta. Oil company trucks ran Lubicon vehicles off the roads; two forest fires were left to rage unchecked, wiping out 250 square miles of traditional Lubicon territory and destroying traplines; Union Oil was forced to abandon a pipeline across Lubicon territories after the nation warned them they were facing confrontation on the ground; the feds appointed an independent investigator then fired him when his report was seen as too favourable to the Lubicons; and throughout it all the Lubicons worked tirelessly to build support for their struggle.
Things came to a head in 1988. The Calgary Winter Olympics were on. Their flagship arts exhibit, a show of Native artifacts called "The Spirit Sings", was sponsored by the very corporations currently destroying the Lubicon community. At the request of the Lubicon people, museums around the world refused to send artifacts, crippling the exhibit. Striking cabbies carried support signs for the Lubicons on their cars. The Olympic Torch Relay, organized by Petro Canada, was met with demonstrations across the country. The Lubicons were daily news. But still the government was stalling.
A deal with the Province
In the fall of 1988, frustrated by their lack of progress in the courts and government intransigence, the Lubicons declared themselves a sovereign nation and withdrew all legal actions. Several days later they set up passport control points on all access roads to their lands and barred entry to any corporation not possessing a Lubicon-issued permit. The blockades gained national and international support. Alberta Premier Don Getty refused to negotiate until the blockades were down, sending in RCMP agents within a few days to tear them down and arrest 27 people. When they were released, Chief Bernard Ominayak met with Getty and the two signed what is now known as the Grimshaw Accord, an agreement between the two concerning the size of the proposed Lubicon reserve. All they needed was to negotiate a similar deal with the feds.
The feds were in the middle of the 1988 election campaign and the Lubicons were becoming a thorny issue. Prime Minister Mulroney met with Ominayak and promised to negotiate, raising Lubicon hopes and getting the Lubicon issue out of his way for the remainder of the election campaign. But Mulroney's re-elected government deliberately sabotaged these negotiations on January 24, 1989, when the feds tabled a take-it-or-leave-it offer which they knew in advance was unacceptable. The deal allows for the construction of new housing and roads, but leaves the Lubicons dependent on welfare rather than providing the compensation necessary for developing a meaningful economy. Within hours of the breakdown of negotiations, the feds had a propaganda campaign in full swing accusing the Lubicons of "greed not need".
Not satisfied with denying the Lubicons any hope of a negotiated settlement, the feds then set out to undermine the Lubicon leadership. Federal agents were sent in to northern Alberta in the spring of 1989 to meet with a dissident Lubicon member. He was instructed to find other dissidents, and, with government backing, organize the overthrow of the Lubicon leadership in upcoming fall election. Upon hearing of the challenge to his leadership Ominayak called an election to allow the dissidents to put their case before the community. No one ran against him, and the entire Lubicon leadership was re-elected unanimously in the biggest voter turn-out ever. Federal agents then set about organizing a rival band called the Woodland Cree. Drawing Native people from all over Alberta, this rival band was created using an obscure section of the Indian Act which allows the Minister of Indian Affairs to create bands at will and take land and funds away from existing bands to support his creations. The Woodland Cree, a group that never existed before, were fast-tracked into existence and asked to vote on a proposed land settlement which mirrored the "take-it-or-leave it" one offered the Lubicons. Woodland members, who may number up to 700 (band lists have never been released), were given $50 to vote and $1000 per family member if they voted in favour of the agreement. Once the agreement was signed, band members were informed that their $1000 per family member would be deducted from welfare payments.
Daishowa Moves In
Already reeling from the effects of oil and gas development, the Lubicons now face a new threat in the form of clear-cut logging. Daishowa, a transnational paper manufacturer, was granted timber rights in 1989 throughout almost the entire unceded Lubicon traditional territory to feed their nearby Peace River pulp mill. Daishowa-owned Brewster Construction and another company called Buchanan Lumber -- a separate company to whom the Alberta government sold softwood timber rights in the unceded Lubicon territory but who are required to provide any hardwood from their logging operations on Lubicon lands to Daishowa -- went ahead with logging in the fall of 1990. Ominayak responded by warning all companies with operations on Lubicon territory that unauthorized developments would be removed without further notice. One late November night Buchanan's logging camp was torched, causing $25,000 damage, and ending the logging for that season.
When Daishowa planned to return in the fall of 1991, Lubicon supporters began an international boycott of Daishowa products. Across Canada, major Daishowa customers began finding other suppliers for their paper bags. The commencement of boycott activity was instrumental in convincing Daishowa to cancel logging plans for the winter of 1991. But Daishowa still refuses to make a clear, unequivocal commitment not to cut or to buy wood cut on unceded Lubicon territory until a land rights settlement has been reached with both governmnets and a timber harvesting agreement negotiated which respects Lubicon wildlife and environmental concerns. The boycott has continued to grow and each year Daishowa has held back from logging each season due to the mounting public pressure.
With the election of a new government in 1993, Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin promised to make the Lubicon case a priority. In February of 1995, he appointed a federal negotiator who promised to begin negotiations soon.
For more information please contact:
Lubicon Lake Indian Nation
P.O. Box 6731
Peace River, AB T8S 1S5