The story of the Lubicon Cree should almost feel like déjà vu to many Eeyou. They have never surrendered their traditional lands or signed any treaties. They were simply overlooked when the Canadian Treaty negotiators passed through the area in the final moments of the 19th century. Later they were promised a reservation but to date nothing has been done to acknowledge their inherent rights and lands.
“Serious” negotiations started in the 1980s. The Grand Council of the Crees even gave them a million-dollar loan to help with legal and negotiation costs. Money that was never recovered as the talks broke down again and again. Some blame the federal government for their ineptitude. Some blame the Alberta government for initially refusing to negotiate until about 2002. Some say it was the Lubicon lawyers and/or advisers hard line attitudes pushing the Lubicon that were to blame.
The Lubicon Cree have the potential to become a rich First Nation. To date there are over 1700 oil wells or sites in Lubicon traditional territory. Royalties from oil alone could make them independent of government handouts.
Perhaps the oil is the real reason no settlement has been reached. The Lubicon Cree might be looking at a generous land settlement once the last drop of oil has been stolen from their lands.
Whatever the reason, it’s hard to square the Lubicon reality with the words of Indian Affairs Minister Andy Scott, who wrote, “The settlement of the Lubicon Lake Indian Nation Claim remains a priority for the Government of Canada; however, there is more involved in reaching a settlement than the desire for one. All parties must be prepared to compromise. Canada wants a settlement that is fair to all parties, including other First Nations and the Canadian taxpayers.”
One would wonder if everyone has a real desire to reach a settlement why one hasn’t been reached for over 100 years? Or even in the last 20 years of heavy negotiations?
I wonder also what other First Nations have to do with a Lubicon Lake agreement? Is this simply a smokescreen so that the “fairness” for the Canadian taxpayer is more acceptable?
The Canadian taxpayer already benefits from the natural resource extraction from Lubicon lands. It is estimated that $13 billion in revenues have been taken from the area in the past 26 years. Both provincial and federal governments have benefited from this while the Lubicon remain in limbo. This is why I would take Scott’s assurance that reaching a settlement is a priority. If the past years have not reached one then we must look at why. While the reasons I gave at the beginning could be part of it, one of the rules is always to follow the money. The government benefits doubly. They get revenue in taxes from the land and there is no fiduciary responsibility in its funding costs towards the Lubicon. There are also no added costs of dealing with an Aboriginal land base, environmental and social regimes and trying to extract natural resources.
But in the end it all comes down to a simple fact; the land and the rights of the Lubicon have never been surrendered or extinguished. In all “fairness” it is time to do what is right and reach a settlement with the Lubicon. They have waited long enough and shouldn’t be overlooked anymore.