Published Letters to the Editor reacting to outrageous news stories

Friends of the Lubicon
PO Box 444 Stn D,
Etobicoke ON M9A 4X4
Tel: (416) 763-7500
Email: fol (at) tao (dot) ca
www.lubicon.ca

September 29, 2008

To its credit, and to the benefit of its readers, the Peace River Record Gazette has printed Chief Ominayak's response to the Record Gazette's three piece feature story on Cadotte Lake and Little Buffalo in its entirety. It has also printed the responses of a couple of well-informed readers. Copies of the three letters are below.

1) Chief responds to Cadotte and Little Buffalo series

2) International group reacts to feature

3) Reader ‘disturbed’ by features


Chief responds to Cadotte and Little Buffalo series

September 24, 2008

To the Editor:

The three-part series on living conditions in Cadotte and Little Buffalo Lakes that appeared in the Record-Gazette starting on Aug. 26 is more about undermining Lubicon land rights than it is about Lubicon living conditions. Moreover it is not based on readily available facts known to people across the country and around the world but on long-since discredited, deliberately deceitful Canadian Government propaganda.

The false allegation that the Lubicons are merely squatters on provincial Crown land goes back to the late 1930s, before it was investigated and rejected in writing by the first official government delegation to visit Lubicon Territory in 1939. It was then revived by the Alberta government in the early 1980s, before it was again examined and discredited in 1986 by prominent Canadian jurist and Conservative statesman E. Davie Fulton, after an 18-month long inquiry commissioned by then federal Indian Affairs Minister David Crombie.

The false allegation that the Lubicons are merely squatters on provincial Crown land was examined and discredited again by the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations in 1990, after a six-year review of the facts and numerous submissions from both sides. It has since been revisited by two different UN Human Rights Committees, both of whom concluded that Canada should return to the negotiating table to negotiate a settlement of Lubicon land rights that respects Lubicon rights under two different international human rights covenants, and in the meantime, should "conduct effective consultation with the Band prior to the grant of licenses for economic purposes in the disputed land, and to ensure that such activities do not jeopardize Lubicon rights recognized under (those two international human rights covenants)".

The Lubicon people are not squatters on land we have occupied since before the arrival of Europeans in our area. A highly qualified independent ethnologist found that the archaeological evidence indicates that our ancestors occupied Lubicon Territory since at least 1400 and we can document our occupation of Lubicon Territory going back to 1750 — well before Canada was created as a so-called "self-governing colony of the British Empire" in 1867; well before Alberta was created as a second-class province of Canada without land and resource rights in 1905; and well before the predecessor of Sunrise County — Municipal District No. 131 — was created as a provincial municipality in 1968.

Northern Sunrise County claims to have obtained rights to our area from Municipal District No. 131 in 2002. Municipal District 131 claimed to have obtained the land rights it supposedly transferred to Sunrise County from the Alberta government under the Municipal Government Act of 1968.

The Alberta Government claims to have obtained the rights it assigned to Municipal District 131 from the Canadian government under the Federal/Provincial Land Transfer Agreement of 1930. The Canadian Government in turn claims to have obtained the rights it supposedly transferred to Alberta under the 1930 Land Transfer Agreement from the original aboriginal owners of the land through negotiation of Treaty 8 in 1899.

However the Lubicon people are the original aboriginal owners of Lubicon Territory. We are not signatories to Treaty 8 and we have not ceded our rights to Lubicon Territory to anybody through treaty or in any other historically or legally recognized way. In point of fact the existence of Lubicon land rights has been acknowledged by both levels of Canadian Government since 1939 and have been the subject of on-again, off-again negotiations with both levels of Canadian since 1985. (Canada and Alberta take the position that we only have outstanding treaty land entitlement rights under a treaty they acknowledge we didn’t sign but insist, tellingly, that we sign an adhesion to Treaty 8 — officially joining Treaty 8 and ceding our unceded rights to Lubicon Territory — as part of any settlement of Lubicon land rights.)

In 1980 — in another well-documented effort to assert provincial jurisdiction over unceded Lubicon land and to subvert Lubicon land rights — the Alberta government declared our traditional community of Little Buffalo Lake to be a provincial hamlet. They lied to our people about the forms they were asking us to sign, and forged our signatures when people realized what government agents were doing and refused to sign the forms. They were caught at it and their actions publicly exposed, both in the provincial legislature and in the media. An appalled provincial Opposition Leader Grant Notley at the time asked, "Are there no lengths to which this provincial government is not prepared to go?" Provincial officials proceeded to declare Little Buffalo a provincial hamlet anyway but that doesn’t make Little Buffalo a legitimate provincial hamlet under the jurisdiction of Northern Sunrise County when the province doesn’t have proper jurisdiction over unceded Lubicon land.

All of this brings us to the outrageous statements made in your articles about the Lubicon water situation. The articles say Northern Sunrise County is building a 100 kilometre long pipeline to carry water to the people of Little Buffalo Lake from a treatment plant located at the Peace River but the Lubicons are for some vague unstated political reason torpedoing it. In fact the purpose of the proposed Northern Sunrise County pipeline is not to provide the Lubicon people with a source of safe drinking water but to again try to assert provincial jurisdiction over unceded Lubicon land and subvert Lubicon land rights — this time using a questionable 30-year-old oil company pipeline and tens of millions of taxpayers dollars.

In 1999 agreement was reached at the Lubicon land rights negotiating table regarding construction of an on-reserve Lubicon water treatment plant for the Lubicon people post settlement of Lubicon land rights. Engineers were hired. Test holes were drilled. Suitable local sources of water were identified. The cost of a professionally designed on-reserve water treatment plant, including an on-reserve water distribution system, was a little over $5 million. The cost of a related sewer disposal system was an additional $2.6 million.

In July of 2002, then federal Indian Affairs Minister Bob Nault instructed his officials to develop ways and means to start providing the Lubicon people with basic services even while Lubicon land negotiations were proceeding. We agreed in discussions with Indian Affairs officials to start providing the Lubicon people with basic services by providing water and sewer service to the families of 10 Lubicon Elders who find a lack of indoor plumbing particularly difficult, especially when all of our traditional sources of drinking water have been contaminated by resource activity and they have to travel over 100 kilometres to buy bottled water.

Continued from Page A4

A proposal was jointly developed with Indian Affairs officials to install a small water purification plant in the Lubicon area that would serve as a pilot project, required as a step towards building a main on-reserve Lubicon water purification plant post-settlement of Lubicon land rights, and, in the interim, would provide the families of 10 Lubicon Elders with a local source of drinkable water.

In 2003 representatives of Northern Sunrise County approached us and asked for us to authorize Indian Affairs to provide money on our behalf to help pay for a study to develop a regional water system based on an old pipeline built by Shell Oil in 1978-79 to transport water from Cadotte Lake to the Shell in-situ plant. This old Shell oil pipeline only operated for a few months because it dropped the level of Cadotte Lake so much that the lake froze solid and killed all the fish. It has been sitting idle in the ground ever since and is reportedly in questionable condition.

We declined to authorize Indian Affairs to contribute money on our behalf to support what we frankly considered to be a half-baked scheme to pipe water over 100 kilometres in a 30-year-old oil company pipeline. We indicated that we preferred to proceed with implementation of the professionally designed plans agreed at the negotiating table and in discussions with Indian Affairs officials. We didn’t learn until 2007 that Indian Affairs contributed money to Northern Sunrise County’s regional water study anyway and participated in it behind our backs — allegedly on our behalf.

In May of 2005 Indian Affairs officials asked us to prepare an updated version of the proposal to begin providing the Lubicon people with basic services starting with provision of water and sewer services to the families of 10 Lubicon Elders. That 2005 Lubicon proposal spells out the equipment and related infrastructure required to provide water and sewer service to the families of 10 Elders at a cost that is competitive with the cost of providing water and sewer service to people in surrounding northern Alberta communities, to provide infrastructure adequate to provide water and sewer service to a limited number of additional Lubicon families each subsequent year until there is a settlement of Lubicon land rights, and to do all of this in a way that is compatible with the water and sewer system agreed in Lubicon land negotiations.

Total estimated cost of the updated 2005 Lubicon water and sewer proposal was either $1.2 million or $2.5 million depending upon whether a known but untested local water source close to existing roads could be used, or if an already tested local water source requiring construction of a longer access road had to be used. Federal officials at the technical level confirmed the cost numbers and recommended the proposal but senior Indian Affairs officials, effectively countermanding Mr. Nault’s instructions, told the less senior officials with whom we were working "not to proceed due to the outstanding claims issue".

In August of 2006 federal officials offered us $250,000 towards implementation of the 2005 proposal and made a verbal commitment to try and come up with another $160,000. The federal offer would cover the cost of plumbing, water tanks, sewer tanks and upgrading driveways necessary to deliver water and sewer services to the families of 10 Lubicon Elders. However it did not cover water or sewage disposal.

After a lot of hemming and hawing about where the water would come from and where the sewage would go, federal officials proposed "to contract out water delivery and sewage disposal" until a proposed 100-kilometre long Northern Sunrise County pipeline, on which they had been secretly working behind our backs with Northern Sunrise County and provincial officials, is completed into the Lubicon area. They told us the proposed Northern Sunrise County pipeline would not be completed for at least four or five years.

The tab for building the local Lubicon water treatment facility and providing local sewage disposal — not including access roads and local water distribution (which will be required in any case) — was $350,000. The cost of hauling in the water and hauling out the sewage for the families of 10 Lubicon Elders ranged between $410,000 per year and $460,000 per year, depending upon whether the water came from Red Earth or Peace River — multiplied of course by an indeterminate number of years until the proposed Northern Sunrise County pipeline is completed. It was thus very clear that hauling in water and hauling out sewage, even on an interim basis, would be outrageously expensive and would cost more in three years than it would cost for the Lubicon people to build our own water treatment and sewage disposal facility, plus employ our own people and provide our own water and sewer service under our own duly elected government consistent with settlement of Lubicon land rights.

Next federal officials proposed to reduce the cost of hauling in the water and hauling out the sewage by buying trucks rather than contracting out the service, by trucking in the water from the existing Northern Sunrise County water treatment plant in Cadotte Lake rather than going all the way to Red Earth or Peace River, and by depositing the sewage in a sewage lagoon belonging to the Woodland Cree Band rather than trucking it to Red Earth. As everybody knew, however, the water from the Cadotte Lake treatment plant is problematic; subject to health advisories that say it can’t be drunk even if it’s boiled, and can’t even safely be used for bathing because it causes skin rashes.

In addition, federal officials advised, they could only provide $37,500 a year to operate the proposed water and sewer trucks when actual annual truck operating costs, in the comparable neighboring Woodland Cree and Loon River Bands, is nearly three times that amount. In other words, the Lubicons were being offered water we can’t drink, delivered by trucks we can’t afford to operate, until some indeterminate point in the future when Northern Sunrise County builds a new water treatment plant and re-lines a dicey hundred kilometre long pipeline — now estimated by Northern Sunrise County officials to cost $46 million not including sewage disposal or local water distribution — that would constitute effective provincial assertion of jurisdiction over our unceded Territory, and subversion of our unceded land rights, at a cost to the taxpayers over 16 times greater than our proposal to provide water and sewer service for the families of 10 Lubicon Elders, and at a cost five times greater than the estimated cost of the Lubicon reserve water and sewer system agreed at the Lubicon land negotiating table — not including the cost of sewage disposal and local water distribution system.

Most recently on Aug. 14, federal officials told us that they are now prepared to truck in safe drinking water from Peace River, "irrespective of the cost", until the proposed Northern Sunrise County pipeline can be built. "Irrespective of the cost" turned out to mean that they are now prepared to pay the difference in the cost of buying the water in Peace River instead of Cadotte Lake, which is nominal, but they are still not prepared to pay the cost of trucking the water from Peace River, which remains prohibitive.

The bottom line in all of this is that it is not true that the Lubicons are blocking Northern Sunrise County from providing our people with safe drinking water for some mysterious political reason. While it is true that we are concerned about ongoing efforts by the federal and provincial governments to subvert our land rights, and while we have made clear our position that we want to provide our own basic services, employing our own people on a recognized Lubicon reserve under our own duly elected government, and while there is no question that provision of a local water source and sewage disposal capacity will be much cheaper than having the water piped over 100 kilometres from Peace River, and while we admittedly have real concerns about relying on these stumblebums to deliver essential drinking water to our people, the Northern Sunrise County pipeline proposal has been bumbling along, behind our backs and without our knowledge or involvement, essentially independent of our ongoing efforts to provide our people with a local source of safe, economical drinking water.

 

Sincerely,

Bernard Ominayak
Chief
Lubicon Lake Indian Nation

 


International group reacts to features

September 24, 2008

To the Editor,

As a human rights organization based in Munich, Germany, Aktionsgruppe Indianer & Menschenrechte e.V has been closely monitoring the Lubicon situation since 1986. Rarely have we come across such biased reporting as put forward by Curtis Haugan in his recent three part series about the communities of Cadotte Lake and Little Buffalo Lake.

In the first part of his feature Haugan presents as supposed fact untrue allegations known to be self-serving provincial propaganda such as his statement that the Lubicons are "Essentially (a) group just living on Crown land, maintained by the county." Anybody who knows anything about the situation knows that the Lubicons are a federally recognized Indian band under Canadian law, who have never ceded their rights to their land in any legally or historically recognized way. They are not just a bunch of squatters living on Crown land maintained by the county.

Since 1984 the government of Canada has been involved in the on-again off-again negotiations of Lubicon land rights with the Lubicon people. In 1988 then Alberta Premier Don Getty and Chief Bernard Ominayak reached the so-called Grimshaw Accord, which recognized that the Lubicon Cree have land rights over their traditional Territory that have never been properly dealt with. These negotiations would make no sense at all if Haugan’s rehashed provincial propaganda lines were true.

Another problem with Haugan’s articles is that he seems to be completely unaware of relevant history. He accepts without question Agnes Knudsen’s statement that the provincial municipality of Northern Sunrise County (NSC) has been "designated as caretakers of that area of land and of the people" without asking, in light of the internationally well known 80 year-long Lubicon struggle for recognition of Lubicon land rights, who designated NSC the caretakers of land the Lubicon people have never ceded to anybody in any legally or historically recognized way.

Since the mid-80’s numerous observers from around the world, including members of AGIM, have visited Lubicon Territory for extended periods of time and carefully reviewed thousands of pages of related historical, archival and legal documentation. Among them are highly qualified ethnologists, anthropologists, historians, geographers, environmentalists, human rights experts, forestry experts, and internationally experienced social workers. They have all come to the same conclusions as three UN human rights bodies; namely, the UN Human Rights Committee (UN-HRC), the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN-ESCR) and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN-CERD) who each independently investigated the situation in Little Buffalo and found Canada to be in on-going violation of two major Human Rights Covenants signed and ratified by Canada.

NSC representative Knudsen seems unaware of all of these things also. Otherwise how could one understand her remarks on the water situation which reflect a paternalistic, colonialistic and simple-minded recipe for dealing with the problem of indigenous resistance everywhere in the world; i.e., pour gasoline on the fire and then call for the fire department, or, in this case, call for the RCMP.

The second (Cadotte Lake) part of the series unwittingly makes clear why the Lubicons have refused to accept a Canadian settlement offer based on normal Canadian programs and services for Indians. The so-called Woodland Cree Band, whose members live in Cadotte Lake, signed such an agreement after it had been turned down by the Lubicons because it made no real provision for the Lubicons to once again achieve economic self-sufficiency. In other words the people in Cadotte Lake face the same kind of problems as the Lubicons, if not worse, after signing away the heritage of their children and grandchildren. Having read this part of the series attentive Record-Gazette’s readers will understand why European Human Rights organizations strongly support the Lubicon position that it would be absolutely crazy to sign away their children’s future in exchange for just more of the same poverty, welfare dependency, helplessness and hopelessness.

With TransCanada about to commence construction of a major new gas pipeline across unceded Lubicon land without first obtaining Lubicon agreement not to oppose an application to the Alberta government for authority to build that pipeline, the Record Gazette should follow an old journalistic rule in covering this story over the next few weeks. Follow the money.

Yours sincerely

 

Original signed by

Dionys Zink
(AGIM, Member of the Board)
Aktionsgruppe Indianer & Menschenrechte e.V

 


Reader ‘disturbed’ by features

September 24, 2008

To the Editor:

I have just finished reading the three articles by Curtis Haugan aboutliving conditions in Little Buffalo and Cadotte Lake. I lived in Little Buffalo during the summers of 1987 and 1988 and have revisited the community numerous times since: my last visit was in 2003. Several points made by Haugan disturb me as misrepresentative of the situation.

The first misleading comment is that the Lubicon are merely squatters on crown land. Buried in the article is the fact that the Lubicon never ceded their traditional hunting, trapping and gathering lands to the government, and that therefore their title to the land was never extinguished. Obviously the real squatters are the oil and gas companies removing billions of dollars worth of resources every year from Lubicon land, a process facilitated by both levels of government.

The second disturbing comment was the quote by the MP for the area insinuating that the Lubicon leadership was at fault for the lack of water in the community, and that the Lubicon Nation should "consider its leadership." Of more value would have been an investigation into government attempts to subvert Lubicon leadership over the years, as well as the game of football played by both levels of government around the provision of water. It’s not enough to simply quote residents as saying "it’s all political stuff."

Also misleading was the description of why the 1988 negotiations failed.

Continued from Page A6

Ominayak did not go to Ottawa to ratify a $43 million settlement. Instead the federal government handed down a take it or leave it offer that totally undermined the holistic and sophisticated economic and social development plan on which the community based its demands. Then the government mounted an elaborate media "greed not need" campaign, ignoring the fact that the only greed involved is that of resource hungry companies and their stockholders. Subsequent negotiations have also faltered due to a failure on the part of the government to negotiate in good faith.

I also feel that the key question Haugan should have posed was not what’s preventing better living conditions in Little Buffalo but what’s preventing the settlement of the Lubicon land claim. Is Haugan even aware of the numerous rulings of the United Nations Human Rights Committee that call on the federal government to negotiate in good faith and to ensure that resource development companies not be allowed to run roughshod over Lubicon land rights? Living conditions would not be an issue if these rulings were heeded.

Sincerely,

Rosemary Brown
Calgary

 


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