In a major step forward for Lubicon Lake Indian Nation treaty settlement talks, the province is set to join negotiations in October.

The Herald-Tribune of Grande Prairie, Alberta, reports that agreement on bilateral issues between the Lubicon and the federal government reached conclusion Sept. 20, the same day Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault made his first visit to the impoverished community at Little Buffalo, about 100 kilometres east of Peace River.

The latest round of federal talks for northern Alberta’s oldest outstanding First Nation settlement claim resumed in 1998, stalling repeatedly over the last four years. Nailing down the bilateral federal issues and moving to the next phase “is good news,” veteran Lubicon advisor Fred Lennarson said.

Negotiations with the federal team and the Lubicon last broke down over a couple of technical issues after a January meeting. No further talks where held until Sept. 11, the week before Nault’s community visit.

Technical committee work continued throughout the following week, with the last issues resolved Friday before Nault’s visit, Lennarson said.

The two parties now have agreement on how Lubicon band membership is to be determined and the scope of a new community to be built at the First Nation’s historical home-base at Lubicon Lake. Reserve lands, economic development and compensation packages, and a wildlife and environmental management agreement over traditional Lubicon territory are up for discussion once the province comes to the table.

If the province is serious about settling talks could proceed rapidly, Lennarson said.

“If they want to get it done, it will not be hard to do,” he said.

Issues with the province have already all been settled at one time or another, Lennarson said. An agreement reached with former Alberta premier Don Getty in 1988, saw the province offer a 246-square-kilometre reserve and an acceptable economic development agreement, he said.

Land is a key issue for the Lubicon and the federal government does support the First Nation’s request for a 246-square-kilometre reserve, chief federal negotiator for the settlement claim Brad Morse said. The Grimshaw Accord reached 14 years ago was never legally binding, Morse said, but “it was understood by the parties that it was an appropriate resolution to the land issue… and we will stand by that.”

Nault was well received in Little Buffalo and final settlement for the Lubicon “is of particularly great personal interest to him,” Morse said. The claim is now 63 years old and Nault “appreciates that without the creation of a reserve the Lubicon Lake Indian Nation is still in this clearly unacceptable situation in Little Buffalo,” Morse said.