War is raging in this country but most Canadians have no idea where the battle lines are drawn.
A 10,000-square-kilometre patch of land in Northern Alberta is arguably the most valuable on the planet. It is no surprise then that huge multinational corporations—oil and gas, pulp and paper, and logging companies—have pushed for resources development. Diamond exploration may soon commence in the area. And the only thing standing in the way of full-scale “development” is a small nation of Native people—the Lubicon Lake Crees.
The history of the Lubicon is long and complex. First promised a reserve by the federal government in 1939, the Lubicon still do not have a land settlement agreement. Although they have never ceded any rights to their traditional territory, the Lubicon face constant pressure from the federal and provincial governments as well as big business interests that want to exploit the resource-rich area. Since 1980, over $7 billion in oil has been extracted from the land while the Lubicon themselves suffer extreme poverty.
“So far, the Alberta government has taken royalties worth $9 million off of Lubicon land and 95 per cent of my people are on welfare. We haven’t benefited one cent from any government— except welfare,” said Reinie Jobin of the Lubicon Lake Cree Elders’ Council. “Today, we have alcoholism, suicide… and a very short time ago, my people were self-sufficient.”
Up until the late 1970s, the Lubicon—isolated in their boreal forest home—were self-sufficient in their traditional hunting, fishing and trapping way of life. The first road into Lubicon territory was constructed in 1978. Since that time, the moose population, the staple of the Lubicon diet, has quickly declined. In 1979, 219 moose were killed compared to the handful caught last winter.
Environmental pollution caused by oil and has companies have had dire effects on the people’s health. Moreover, a newly constructued sour-gas processing plant—built a stone’s throw from the Lubicon’s proposed reserve sight—is a potential threat because an accidental leak of hydrogen sulphide could be fatal for the entire band.
According to Fred Lennerson, an Edmonton-based advisor to the Lubicon, there were 19 stillbirths out of 21 pregnancies from 1985 to 1986. Although the infant mortality rate has declined, the Lubicon still experience an uncommonly high number of still-births, spontaneous abortions, miscarriages, premature births and birth defects.
“It’s a continuing problem but at that time, nobody knew if another Lubicon baby would be born alive,” said Lennerson.
Asthma, skin rashes, various cancers and other health problems plague the community of Little Buffalo, located 600 kilometres north of Edmonton, east of the Peace River. Suicides are another big problem, and the community doesn’t even have running water.
“Their people are dying. It’s genocide,” Lennerson said. “They are fighting to defend themselves—they are under seige. Not (fighting) is not an option.”
Canada’s forgotten Nation
Because of the Lubicon’s extreme isolation, they were overlooked when Canada signed treaties with First Nations across the Prairies between 1879 and 1908. Other aboriginal peoples in Northern Alberta signed Treaty Number 8, which Canada maintains resulted in the relinquishment of aboriginal title over land in exchange for reserves and hunting and fishing rights. In 1930, the federal government transferred large tracts of land to provincial jurisdiction through the Land Transfer Resources Agreement. The transfer included all land rights the federal government had obtained through Treaty 8. The Lubicon first met with government officials in 1939 who recognised them as a band and promised reserve land. Although a provisional reserve had been marked on the map, World War II intervened before a deal could be signed.
After the war, oil and gas companies were given authorisation by the Alberta government to begin exploration in and around Lubicon territory—without consultation or the consent of the Lubicon. Between 1979 and 1983, more than 100 gas companies drilled over 400 wells within a 15-mile radius of their community. Although the Lubicon have entered negotiations with both the federal and provincial governments three times in the last decade, talks have broken off because the parties involved have failed to agree on the size of the land mass and monetary compensation that should be allotted to the Lubicon Lake Cree.
Fighting a giant
The latest threat to Lubicon territory and way of life is Daishowa, a Japanese multinational pulp and paper company.
The Alberta government, between 1987 and 1989, issued 20-year cutting permits to numerous companies for over 221,000 square kilometres in the province. Daishowa received cutting rights to 29,000 square kilometres which includes the traditional territory of the Lubicon. The Daishowa-owned subsidiary, Brewster Construction, cuts up to 11,000 trees to produce 1,000 metric tons of pulp per day. Jim Morrison, media relations agent for Daishowa-Marubeni International (DMI), claims that the company harvests 0.3 per cent of the 29,000 square kilometres a year, which is “reforested immediately.” “It’s not like using up a resource,” Morrison adds. “It’s a renewable resource.”
Jobin responds, “That’s a bunch of crap—we live right there and they’re not replanting. They’re clearcutting.”
The Lubicon Nation issued a cry for help in 1988 and has since received international support. It was at that time that DMI made an agreement with the Lubicon not to clearcuton their traditional land until a land settlement could be reached between the band and the federal and provincial governments—an agreement the company broke in 1990 when they sent contractors to start harvesting on Lubicon land.
In 1991, the Friends of the Lubicon, a Toronto grassroots organization, began a boycott campaign of Daishowa pulp and paper products. The Friends convinced 47 companies representing 4,300 retailers to stop purchasing products from Daishowa and its subsidiaries. Because of the boycott, DMI has refrained from cutting on Lubicon territory since 1991, but has refused to make a binding commitment not to cut until a land settlement is reached.
But the Friends’ boycott also affected Daishowa Forest Products Ltd. (DFP), which operates smaller pulp and paper mills in Quebec and the Maritimes. Although owned by the same company in Japan, DFP director of corporate development Tom Cochran contends that his “company has nothing to do with Alberta.” Daishowa Forest Products took the Friends of the Lubicon to court in Ontario and won a so-called interlocutory injunction on January 23, 1996 to stop the boycott and picketing. The injunction prevents anyone in Ontario, not just the Friends, from promoting a boycott of Daishowa products. A trial date has been set for this September, and Daishowa is suing three members of the Friends for over $8 million in lost revenues and damages. Environmentalists and civil-rights workers are calling the injunction and lawsuit an unprecedented attack on freedom of speech, and vow to fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
If there is a silver lining to the lawsuit, it shows that even the largest multinational is not immune from an organized protest campaign organized at the grassroots level. Daishowa’s lawsuit and injunction have earned it a place on a list of companies with the world’s 10 worst corporate records compiled by U.S.-based Multinational Monitor magazine.
A demonstration was held at Daishowa’s Montreal office last week to commemorate the first anniversary of the Ontario injunction against the Friends of the Lubicon. The action was organized by the newly formed Amitié Lubicons-Québec and Lubicon Elder Reine Jobin also attended. Jobin prsented a Daishowa representative with letters asking the corporation “to make a public commitment neither to cut nor buy trees cut on Lubicon land until a land rights agreement” is reached and to “drop the legal proceedings… against the Friends of the Lubicon.” The Daishowa representative refused to comment.
In spite of Daishowa’s silence, Jobin appreciates the support shown for his nation. “Daishowa doesn’t like outsiders like the Friends of the Lubicon to expose them for what they are—a greedy multinational,” he said. “The boycott of Daishowa has been a big moral boost for my people.”
When asked what it is his people want, Jobin responded: “We want a land base with full compensation from the governments and corporations that have stolen our resources… (We want) to be self-sufficient again where we don’t have to depend on welfare, where we won’t be a burden to society. We want to give our children and our grandchildren and the ones not yet born a future.”