Fulton Inquiry Confirms Legitimacy of Lubicon Rights & Complaints and Outlines Proposals for Settlement 1985


The following is an excerpt from a Historical Overview document dated June 1989 from Lubicon Nation dealing with the Fulton Inquiry.


In October of 1983 the World Council of Churches wrote then Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau charging the Alberta Provincial Government and dozens of multi-national oil companies with "actions which could have ( a word has been deleted here in order not to possibly contravene a court order against FOL ) consequences". The World Council of Churches letter was followed by an on-site visit of senior Canadian Church leaders who reported "serious human rights violations" and confirmed that "The traditional lifestyle of the Lubicon Cree is in serious jeopardy". The Chairman of the University of Calgary Anthropology Department charged the Alberta Government with "destroying a whole social order". The Curator of Ethnology at the Museum of the American Indian in New York City charged "ethnocide", which he defined as "tearing apart the very fabric and meaning of life. " A Special Parliamentary Committee on Indian Self-Government conducting a nation-wide tour reported that the plight of the Lubicon people is "one of the most distressing problems the Committee encountered." The Toronto Globe and Mail, Canada's most prestigious and only national newspaper, editorialized that "meaner treatment of helpless people could scarcely be imagined". The CBC Journal, Canada's most prestigious national TV news program, prepared a special documentary report concluding that "The Lubicon Lake Indians have survived half-a-century of official neglect and political deceit...(but)...cannot survive the destruction of the land around them." The New York Times printed a full page article on the situation reporting that "The plight of the Lubicons has sparked worldwide concern".

Faced with growing national and international attention and concern, on November 26, 1984, the newly appointed Federal Indian Affairs Minister David Crombie agreed to appoint an "special envoy" to try and resolve the question of our outstanding aboriginal land rights. He said, "I think it's time to make a deal." He also agreed to provide us with desperately needed financial assistance to help cover the legal and other costs which we'd incurred over the previous five years in our struggle to survive -- including a bank loan which was rapidly coming due.

On January 21, 1985, we received a telephone call from Mr. Crombie's office asking for our reaction to the possibility of the Hon. E. Davie Fulton being appointed "special Lubicon negotiator". We checked Mr. Fulton's credentials and reputation. We learned that Mr. Fulton is a former Federal Justice Minister and Supreme Court Judge in British Columbia with a reputation for fairness, independence and commitment to the rule of law. We didn't think that we'd do better with a non-aboriginal person. We therefore advised the people in Mr. Crombie's office that we'd welcome Mr. Fulton's appointment as "special Lubicon negotiator".

On January 27th Mr. Crombie's Chief of Staff announced the appointment of Mr. Fulton "as a special negotiator to help settle the Lubicon Lake native land dispute." He said that Mr. Fulton "will do a fact-finding report for (Mr. Crombie) to suggest ways that the Lubicon Lake dispute could be resolved."

Our first meeting with Mr. Fulton occurred the evening of April 9, 1985, after which he spent the night in our community staying with one of our old men. The next morning he flew over our traditional territory in a helicopter, ate lunch with us and then attended a community meeting. His presence overnight in our community was a new experience for us. No other representative of either level of Canadian Government, before or since, has ever spent the night in our community.

Mr. Fulton explained that he would be conducting an independent inquiry into our situation. He made clear, much to our initial dismay, that he "represented" neither the Minister nor the Federal Government. Rather, he said, he hoped to be able to clearly delineate the positions of both levels of Canadian Government and the Lubicon people; to discuss and obtain the reactions of each of the three parties to the positions of the other two; to prepare a "discussion paper" identifying common ground and including his own comments and reactions; to share and review his discussion paper with each of the three parties, hopefully in the context of meetings attended by all three of the parties; and to then prepare a final report with recommendations for the Minister. He said that he hoped it would be possible to find a solution acceptable to all of the parties. However if a mutually acceptable solution wasn't possible, he said, then "somebody is going to have to make a decision and take action".

Mr. Fulton's approach was not at all what we'd expected. We'd expected a representative of the Federal Government with whom we could negotiate a settlement of our aboriginal land rights -- not another inquiry. Moreover after our experience with the Canadian Courts we really didn't believe that there was any such thing as an independent Canadian Government inquiry. We didn't see how Mr. Fulton could be appointed by the Federal Minister of Indian Affairs and still represent neither the Minister nor the Federal Government. And we frankly questioned the value of the exercise Mr. Fulton was proposing.

Mr. Fulton told us he wasn't an authority in the area of Indian land rights, but that he did have "a deep sense of what is just, what is fair." He said he didn't yet know the full details of the Lubicon situation, but that he did knew enough to know that part of his job was going to be one of "building trust", and that trust would have to be "earned".

We listened to Mr. Fulton and decided to work with his proposed inquiry, partly because we didn't have many options, and partly, despite our growing cynicism about representatives of both levels of Canadian Government, Mr. Fulton impressed us as a man of honour and integrity. During the course of the next year we had many tough discussions with Mr. Fulton, and disagreed with him on many things, but he never once gave us reason to doubt his integrity or his sincerity. He earned our respect and our trust.

Moreover we came more and more to appreciate the wisdom of Mr. Fulton's independent inquiry approach. Instead of merely reflecting the continually changing but always adversarial position of the Government, Mr. Fulton effectively put himself in a position to take testimony equally from both levels of Canadian Government and the Lubicon people, to assess the factual accuracy of that testimony, to apply appropriate legal and other tests, and then to argue an independent settlement position based in the facts, based in the law and based in his firmly held views of justice and equity.

We asked Mr. Fulton about Mr. Crombie's commitment to provide us with desperately needed financial assistance, which we'd been told by the people in Mr. Crombie's office to discuss with Mr. Fulton. Mr. Fulton said that he knew nothing about Mr. Crombie's commitment to provide us with financial assistance, and he also made clear that he thought follow-up on this item should rather be the responsibility of Departmental officials. However, given the urgency of our financial plight, and especially our outstanding bank loan, Mr. Fulton agreed to check into the situation, which he then did, ultimately making an "interim report" to the Minister on July 12, 1985, recommending "a payment in advance of anticipated compensation sufficient to retire all outstanding Band debts, or at least adequate to cover the Band's bank loan."

A couple of weeks after making his "interim report" to the Minister, Mr. Fulton reported that his recommendation to provide a payment in advance of anticipated compensation had the support of Departmental officials, and the Minister, and that it was being processed for submission to Treasury Board and the Cabinet Committee on Social Services. Six weeks later, however, we learned that Mr. Fulton's recommendation still hadn't left the Department.

We checked to find out why Mr. Fulton's recommendation had yet to leave the Department and learned that Federal Justice Department lawyer Ivan Whitehall, the same Justice Department lawyer who'd intervened for the Federal Government on behalf of the Province during the caveat case, and who more recently had been providing Provincial Government and oil company lawyers with advice and assistance as to how to defeat our application for an emergency injunction, "got to the Minister". Mr. Whitehall, we were advised, opposed the Fulton Inquiry, took the position that we should "go to court" if we thought we had any rights, and argued that providing us with any money would only increase our ability "to cause trouble."

On Friday, December 6, 1985, Mr. Fulton delivered the first draft of his "Discussion Paper", which basically affirmed the existence of our rights, confirmed the nature of the circumstances to which we were being subjected, and outlined Mr. Fulton's considered proposals regarding the various settlement issues. Mr. Fulton's next step, mutually agreed by all three parties prior to commencement of his Inquiry, called for Mr. Fulton to review his "Discussion Paper" with each of the parties, hopefully in the context of meetings attended by all three parties, and then to prepare a final report with recommendations for the Minister.

Four days later, however, on Tuesday, December 10, 1985, Provincial Native Affairs Minister Milt Pahl called a "major press conference" to announce that the Alberta Government had "settled" Lubicon land rights with an offer to transfer less than a third of the reserve lands recommended by Mr. Fulton in his Discussion Paper -- an offer which Mr. Pahl claimed had been accepted by Mr. Crombie -- an offer which Mr. Crombie said that he'd rejected. Regarding Mr. Fulton, Mr. Pahl said:

"Mr. Fulton has done a good job in crystallizing the issues, but events have now gone beyond Fulton. From the Province's point of view Mr. Fulton's job is now done, his involvement over. The Province plans no further meetings with Mr. Fulton".

With Provincial officials refusing any further meetings with Mr. Fulton, the Fulton Inquiry was effectively over. On December 20, 1985, Federal Indian Affairs Deputy Minister Bruce Rawson told us that he'd already discussed "dropping" Mr. Fulton with Alberta Government officials. He said that it was now time "to move beyond Fulton to a negotiator with a full Cabinet mandate". He made clear that the new negotiator would be someone "other than Fulton".

We told Mr. Rawson that the Federal Government of course had the right to appoint whomever it pleased, but that we weren't prepared to start all over just because Mr. Fulton hadn't concluded that we had no rights. We told Mr. Rawson that we'd been working with Mr. Fulton for nearly a year and would expect that anyone who replaced Mr. Fulton would start where Mr. Fulton left off.

Mr. Rawson agreed that negotiations would start with Mr. Fulton's Discussion Paper. We learned later that Mr. Rawson made a similar agreement with Mr. Fulton.

In order to make the premature termination of the Fulton Inquiry more politically palatable, Federal officials also approved Mr. Fulton's recommendation to provide us the money needed to pay off some of our debts, primarily our bank loan. Since then Federal officials have implied all kinds of demonstrably untrue things about the intended purpose, actual use and accounting for this money, which was in fact expended exactly as we said it would be.