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Members of the Lubicon Lake Nation had been preventing PennWest fracking operations in their Northern Alberta territory for three weeks before a December 16 injunction ordered them not to interfere with the company's operations for a six month period. Their peaceful assembly on an access road has now shifted to a court appeal of the injunction, citing their inherent rights to their land.
PennWest has put forth the position that they have been issued the necessary provincial permits, and are only legally required to work with the new federally recognized Lubicon Lake band chief and council. This council was elected early last year, and is separate from those engaged in the peaceful assembly and the existing Lubicon Lake Nation leadership that is not recognized by the federal government.
"The Lubicon people haven't signed a treaty, we haven't ceded any land, so for the government of Alberta to issue licences that they shouldn't be issuing, because of the land issue, the jurisdiction issue -- we just want them to respect our jurisdiction. It is our land, and until they do something about that end of it, the federal government and the province, it's still unceded Aboriginal title; we still hold the title to the land," explains Cynthia Tomlinson, Land and Negotiations Advisor for the Lubicon Lake Nation.
The 1899 Treaty 8 includes Lubicon territory, but was not signed by the Lubicon Cree. The federal government then transferred the land to the province in 1930, but "you can't buy the house from the neighbours, so to speak," says Garrett Tomlinson, Lubicon Lake Nation Communications Coordinator. "So in that case, all the 2,600 leases and oil and gas wells that have been drilled on the Lubicon territory have essentially been done illegally, in accordance with Canadian and international legal standards."
In a 2009 report, UN Special Rapporteur Miloon Kothari had called for a moratorium on all oil and extractive activities in the Lubicon territory until a negotiated settlement was reached. This followed the initial 1990 ruling by the United Nations Human Rights Committee that "Historical inequities...and certain more recent developments threaten the way of life and culture of the Lubicon Lake Band, and constitute a violation of article 27 [of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] so long as they continue."
Negotiations between the Lubicon and the federal government broke off in 2003. This past summer, Lubicon Lake Nation filed a $700 million lawsuit against both provincial and federal governments, due to the unwillingness of Canada to engage in good faith negotiations.
Meanwhile, around 70 per cent of their territory is leased to industry, and there have been two recent oil spills. Community members live in deplorable conditions, while the Lubicon estimate that in total some $14 billion worth of extraction has taken place from their territory.
"From an outside perspective, and having lived in the community, it's some of the most aggressive colonial tactics that I've seen in present day," says Garrett Tomlinson, describing the way the government has treated the Lubicon, and referencing federal interference in Lubicon self-government, as well as past efforts to trick individuals into signing into 'fee simple title' for their land that would have given up their Aboriginal rights.
"As of late, all the press is worried about or asking questions about is a governance dispute or division, or there's one or there's two [groups]," says Cynthia Tomlinson. "We want to take the focus away from a government-endorsed leadership that we didn't choose, or any other tactic that the government wants to use to deviate from the actual issues that exist in the nation."
"It does such a grave injustice to the people who live there...there's an actual people here who have been affected by resource activity and industry for the last 50 years and the same issues that they had then are still going on today, why aren't we talking about that?"
With the November/December actions against fracking on their territory, the Lubicon gained some attention through social media and with the backing of the Idle No More and Defenders of the Land groups.
"The Lubicon have always had very good support from outside bodies, from international bodies, and it's been very helpful in raising the profile of their issues and it's actually helped to protect them in a lot of cases. In 1988 when people were arrested, it was not only the negotiations of Chief Ominayak with Premier Getty that had those people released, but the international pressure that was put on both levels of government at the time to ensure those people were released," says Garrett Tomlinson.
But the historical backing of organized support networks in Canada and internationally is no longer as strong. Garrett Tomlinson states how the Lubicon's main focus now is to reach out across Canada and internationally, to reengage organizations and networks to help support the ongoing struggle.
"One of the elders, and that's one of the stories that's been passed down to us, he had a dream and he could see the nation and he could see what was coming...and he said, you cannot let this happen, he said, never let your land die," Cynthia Tomlinson explains. "Seeing the destruction that oil and gas or any kind of resource extraction does to the land, to the water, to the animals -- if we were to not do anything, then we would be letting it die. So it's a promise that we're trying to keep, is 'never let our land die' -- because if we let it, then what becomes of us?"
For more information, visit the Lubicon Lake Nation website.
Watch the complete video interview:
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Greg Macdougall is a member of IPSMO, the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement Ottawa, and a maker of interdependent media that is available through his website, www.EquitableEducation.ca
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