"WE NEVER HAD ANYTHING FANCY BUT WE NEVER WENT
HUNGRY. THEN ALL OF A SUDDEN THEY FOUND OIL
AND WE WERE CAUGHT IN A SITUATION WHERE WE
WERE IN THE WAY" Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak, quoted
in Last Stand of the Lubicon Cree, John Goddard, Douglas & McInttyre, 1991
This blog wasn't supposed to be political. I had another blog for that. One I gave up because it took too much time to research and write. But there are some things that piss me off so much that I have to give voice to them. This is one of them and it's so important though largely ignored by most Canadians. I hope you'll take a second to read, to visit the Amnesty website and respond.
If you'd rather watch a video, here's a link. There are four- and 20-minute versions. Take your pick.
Here's an FAQ about the struggle of the Lubicon Cree written by Amnesty International.
The 30-year struggle of the Lubicon Cree
Unrestrained oil and gas development has all but destroyed the traditional economy and way of life of the Lubicon Cree, plunging their northern Alberta community into extreme poverty. The federal and provincial governments have done little to help the Lubicon cope with the harm that has been done. The Lubicon don’t even receive the basic services that other people in Canada take for granted such sanitation and safe drinking water. The Lubicon have plans for rebuilding their community and economy, but so far have not been unable to negotiate the needed compensation and legal protection for their land rights.
Why is the Lubicon situation a human rights issue?The right to culture, the right to health, the right to an adequate standard of living and Indigenous
peoples’ rights to land are all human rights recognized and protected in international human
rights standards. All of these rights have been compromised and violated by the massive scale of
oil and gas development taking place on Lubicon lands without the consent of the Lubicon people.
Don’t the Lubicon have a treaty?No. In 1899, the Lubicon were overlooked when the Government of Canada negotiated a treaty
with other First Nations in the region. The Lubicon have never given up their rights to their lands and
resources. At the same time, their legal rights have never been formally recognized. This is what they
tried to negotiate with the federal government. The Lubicon have no reserve and have been denied
any say in the management of their territory.
In a recent statement to the United Nations, the federal government claimed that Lubicon land and
resource rights were all surrendered in the negotiation of the 1899 treaty – even though the
Lubicon were never part of those negotiations and have not received the benefits of that treaty.
Claims that Lubicon rights could have been "extinguished" in this way are contrary to
fundamental principles of law and justice. The fact that the government would make such claims
before an international human rights body is further indication of the need for public outcry.
What is the province of Alberta doing to protect the rights of the Lubicon?
In 1988, the Lubicon and the Government of Alberta reached an agreement known as the
Grimshaw Accord. The province has honoured the agreement by not allowing any new development
on the portion of the traditional lands that the Lubicon have designated for a future reserve.
However, the provincial government continues to license oil and gas development throughout the
larger traditional territory of the Lubicon Cree with little consideration for the impact on Lubicon
rights. United Nations human rights bodies have repeatedly stated that until the underlying land
rights dispute has been resolved there should be no new development anywhere on Lubicon lands
except with the consent of the Lubicon Cree.
Why have negotiations between the Lubicon and the federal government not led to a settlement?The last round of negotiations broke down in 2003. There were two main issues that the Lubicon and
the federal government couldn’t agree on: the powers that the Lubicon will exercise to govern
their own community and the amount of compensation needed to overcome the harm caused by decades of human rights abuse. On both issues, the government of Canada should be working cooperatively with the Lubicon to ensure that any settlement is consistent with the highest standardsof human rights protection. Instead, the Government has taken an aggressively adversarial approach that has little do with rights, or justice or fairness.
It’s worth noting that the federal government has repeatedly been criticized for the way it handles
the resolution of such disputes. Instead of working collaboratively to improve the living conditions of
Indigenous peoples and address the injustices of the past, the government typically to deny the
existence of Aboriginal rights and to make as few concessions as possible in order to minimize
What are the responsibilities of governments compared to those of the oil companies?The federal and provincial governments are responsible for the failure to provide legal protection for Lubicon land rights and for allowing oil and gas development to go ahead without such protection. But corporations also have responsibilities. Corporations have a responsibility to uphold human rights, even when working in
jurisdictions where local laws and policies violate these standards. In other words, just because the
federal and provincial governments are ignoring Lubicon rights, doesn’t mean that corporations
should also ignore these rights. Until the land dispute is resolved and Lubicon rights are protected in law, Amnesty International is calling on all corporations working in Lubicon territory to maintain an open dialogue with the community and not to proceed with any new development opposed by the Lubicon.
In what ways is the Lubicon experience similar to the situation of communities facing poverty and human rights violations in other countries?While every situation is unique, the situation of the Lubicon Cree illustrates some of the common dimensions of the human rights abuses that drive and deepen poverty around the world. For many communities, and especially for Indigenous peoples, secure access to the land is essential to meeting the basic needs of daily life. However, communities are often left without adequate legal protection for their lands. And existing legal rights
may be ignored or treated in a discriminatory way in order to benefit corporations and other private interests.
ResourcesFor more information on Amnesty International’s work in collaboration with the Lubicon Cree, please
see: “Land and life under threat,” Amnesty International 2008 campaign digest on the Lubicon Cree.
"THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT AND THE OIL COMPANIES... PERSIST
IN THE DESTRUCTION OF OUR LAND AND OUR WAY OF LIFE. AT
TIMES WE MAY SEEM DEFEATED AND INCAPABLE, BUT I ASSURE
YOU WE ARE NOT. AS LONG AS THERE ARE LUBICON PEOPLE LEFT,
WE WILL CONTINUE TO FIGHT FOR A FAIR AND JUST RELATIONSHIP
WITH GOVERNMENTS AND CORPORATIONS ALIKE".
Lubicon Cree member Cynthia Tomlinson, April 2008