Government Policy of Subverting Lubicon Land Rights For the Period 1942 to 1973

From: fol@tao.ca

The following is an excerpt from a Historical Overview document dated June 1989 from Lubicon Nation dealing with the period from 1942 to 1973.


In 1942 an official of the Federal Department of Indian Affairs named Malcolm McCrimmon unilaterally removed a number of Indians in northern Alberta from the lists of recognized, registered Indians.

McCrimmon had decided that the only people entitled to registered as Indians were those who'd signed Treaty in 1899 or "shortly thereafter". The cut-off date he used to determine who was and wasn't entitled to be registered as an Indian was January 1, 1912.

Most of our people, of course, had no opportunity to be registered before January 1, 1912. Most of those who were registered hadn't been registered until after January 1, 1912. And more than half of our people still weren't registered in 1942 and remain unregistered to this day.

Under these circumstances McCrimmon's registration criteria decimated our recognized membership list. Those who hadn't been recognized were deemed by the Government to be no longer eligible. Over half of those who'd been recognized were removed from the list of recognized Indians.

Mr. McCrimmon of course knew exactly what he was doing and the effect it would have on our aboriginal land rights. In a letter to the Departmental Superintendent of Reserves and Trusts, arguing that establishment of a reserve at Lubicon Lake should be held in abeyance until the membership question raised by his removals was resolved, he wrote:

McCrimmon's removals created considerable controversy in Northern Alberta. Responding to the resulting political pressures, the Minister of Indian Affairs appointed a Judge named McKeen to review the removals. Judge McKeen's report to the Minister, dated June 30, 1943 reads as follows:

"...Your instructions to me...say that the facts are relatively simple and will not require any argument of those who are protesting against the removals...This may be the opinion of the Department but it is not mine, after reading the Indian Act and Treaty No. 8, then a book `Treaty of Canada with the Indians' by Morris (who was at the time Lt. Governor of Manitoba and one of the Treaty 8 Commissioners), the Domestic Relations Act of Alberta and the Criminal Code...Mr. McCrimmon has...followed the (McCrimmon authored) principles governing ineligibility... signed by Deputy Minister Charles Campsell...however... with all due respect...I cannot concur (with the removals) when I study Treaty No. 8 and previous commitments made by various Commissioners appointed by Canada and acting for Canada".

Judge McKeen's report was received by the Minister, referred to McCrimmon, rejected by McCrimmon and quietly shelved. The controversy thus continued until 1944 when a formal Judicial Inquiry was ordered. The Judge conducting the Inquiry, Judge McDonald, arrived at basically the same conclusions as Judge McKeen, recommending the reinstatement of nearly 90% of the cases he heard.

The recommendations of the McDonald Inquiry were referred to the Department of Indian Affairs where they were referred to McCrimmon, reviewed by McCrimmon and then largely ignored. Of the 90 Lubicon people removed, for example, Judge McDonald heard 49 appeals, recommended the reinstatement of 43, and recommended that "special consideration" be given the remaining 6. McCrimmon agreed to the reinstatement of only 18.

Later McCrimmon argued that those who didn't appeal accepted his removals. He was wrong. Lubicon people at the time lived scattered throughout a large, largely inaccessible area without roads, phones, radios or newspapers. They neither spoke English nor knew how to read or write. Many didn't know what was going on; others knew but simply decided not to participate in something basically irrelevant to their lives. They lived in the bush, on their own, with little outside contact and even less inclination to spend their time debating with McCrimmon or anybody else whether or not the Canadian Government considered them to be Indians.

On April 17, 1952, the Director of the Technical Division of Provincial Lands and Forests wrote the Department of Indian Affairs as follows:

"Due to the fact that there are considerable inquiries regarding the minerals in the (Lubicon) area, and also the fact that there is a request to establish a mission at this point, we are naturally anxious to clear our records of this provisional reserve (set aside in 1939) if the land is not required by this Band of Indians".

Officials of the Federal Department of Indian Affairs had in the meantime forgotten about us and were consequently caught off-guard by this Provincial letter. The then Departmental Supervisor of Reserves and Trusts therefore wrote the Alberta Regional Supervisor of Indian Affairs as follows:

"You will recall that in 1946 C.D. Brown surveyed six parcels of land...for purposes of Indian Reserves...On his program for the same year was a survey at Lubicon Lake but it is our understanding that he was not able to undertake this survey during the field season and it was left over until another year. In so far as we can tell from our records, this proposed reserve seems to have been forgotten since then and our attention has (now) been drawn to it...I shall be pleased if...you can advise whether you consider there is (still) a need of a reserve at this point, for if so, we will give consideration to having it surveyed, possibly this year, and if not, certainly the following year".

The Alberta Regional Supervisor consulted the local Indian Agent, who reviewed the situation and recommended against proceeding with establishment of a reserve at Lubicon Lake. The local Indian Agent said the Lubicon Lake site was too isolated and inaccessible. He said that a reserve at Lubicon Lake would be "inconvenient" to administer.

The Alberta Regional Supervisor therefore instructed the local Indian Agent to meet with us about the selection of a more "administratively convenient" site, closer to the beaten path -- outside of our traditional area. When the local Indian Agent was unable to get us to agree to an alternative site outside of our traditional area, the Alberta Regional Supervisor instructed him to meet with us again. The Alberta Regional Supervisor was not, however, really interested in consulting us about site selection, as his written instructions to the local Indian Agent made clear.

Those instructions read:

"Regardless of the result of such a meeting, I certainly recommend the procuring of land (at a more convenient site)."

Regarding the question of our ownership of potentially valuable mineral rights, the Alberta Regional Supervisor -- agent of a Federal Government constitutionally responsible for insuring that the interests of aboriginal people in Canada are protected, was equally explicit. He wrote:

"It is recommended that the twenty-four sections of land set aside for a reserve at Lubicon Lake be exchanged for (a more convenient site)...I interviewed the Deputy Minister of (Provincial) Lands and Forests...and...he stated that he did not have any objections to the transfer though there was no assurance that the mineral rights would be included with (the more convenient site)...If this reserve (at Lubicon Lake) is retained, the Band would have the mineral rights...I would recommend the exchange even it the mineral rights cannot be guaranteed (at the more convenient site)."

The local Indian Agent met with us again on June 4, 1953. His written description of that meeting is as follows:

"I explained to Band members present that it would be impossible to administer a reserve at Lubicon Lake because of the lack of transportation, but the members continued to ask for the reserve which has been set aside for them by the Province of Alberta."

On October 22, 1953, the Director of the Technical Division of Provincial Lands and Forests wrote the Federal Government as follows:

"It is some years since (the Lubicon Lake site was provisionally reserved)...(and)...it would be appreciated if you would confirm that the proposal to establish this reservation has been abandoned. If no reply is received within 30 days, it would be assumed that the reservation has been struck from the records."

Federal officials considered the letter from the Province to be an ultimatum and deliberately decided not to respond, believing that the Provincial Government would simply assert Provincial jurisdiction over the land, making it unavailable for reserve purposes. The attitude of Federal officials was clearly spelled out in a letter dated February 25, 1954, from the Alberta Regional Supervisor of Indian Affairs to the local Indian Agent. The letter reads:

"As you are no doubt aware, the Deputy Minister (of Provincial Lands and Forests) has from time to time asked when our Department was likely to make a decision as the whether to not to take up this reserve. There were so many inquiries from oil companies to explore the area that it was becoming embarrassing to state that it could not be entered. That situation existed when our Branch was advised that unless the Department gave a definite answer before the end of 1953 the Provincial authorities were disposed to cancel the reservation and return it to Crown lands which could be explored.

"This was discussed when I was in Ottawa last October. I was of the opinion that our Branch had taken no action and that the block (of land) would automatically return to Provincial Crown lands. Apparently this is not the case.

"In approaching the subject (of a more accessible site) with the Indians, I think it would be well to keep in mind that the mineral rights may be much more valuable than anything else, and if the Indians were deprived of these rights, they could make it very unpleasant for Branch officials. If this block (of land at Lubicon Lake) was given up, then it is very unlikely that mineral rights would be made available with the surface rights of any other reserve that might be picked up. You are fully familiar with the situation and the Indians and their habits."

After several more unsuccessful attempts to talk us into a more "administratively convenient" alternative site, attempts during which the Indian Agent carefully avoided any mention of potentially valuable mineral rights, Federal officials settled on a new strategy. Unable to talk us into a reserve location outside of our traditional area but which suited their administrative convenience, they decided to try and wipe us off the books as an officially recognized Indian Nation. They questioned the validity of our separate existence as a people, which they'd explicitly investigated and confirmed in 1939. They tried to bribe our people into allowing their names to be transferred to the membership lists of other recognized aboriginal societies, promising them educational and other benefits which they supposedly wouldn't have to leave our traditional area to receive, but which Federal officials said couldn't be provided unless our people allowed their names to be transferred. They sought, through deliberate deceit and deception to trick our people into voluntarily relinquishing their aboriginal rights by means of a process called enfranchisement, telling them, falsely, that they could always be put back on the list of officially recognized Indians if they didn't like the supposed advantages of "living like a white man" -- like being legally able to buy alcoholic beverages. And they transferred the names of some of our members to the lists of other recognized aboriginal societies -- without even their knowledge or permission.

On the question of enfranchisement the Alberta Regional Supervisor wrote:

"It is quite possible that the seven families (who'd expressed interest in enfranchisement) will make application for enfranchisement in the near future... should they do so I would recommend that enfranchisement be granted...the remaining members of the Band could no doubt be absorbed into some other Band."

On the question of transferring our members to the membership lists of other recognized aboriginal societies, he wrote:

"The Whitefish Lake Band have no objection to (the Lubicon people) being transferred...and I am suggesting to (the local Indian Agent) to contact those members (of the Lubicon Lake Band) who are at present residing at Whitefish Lake and Grouard and ascertain if they wish to file applications for transfer. If they all wish to transfer it would reduce the (officially recognized) Lubicon Lake Band membership to approximately thirty and if the remainder cannot be persuaded to transfer, their land requirements would be much less than the present membership would be entitled to."

And regarding our recognition as a separate and distinct aboriginal society, the Alberta Regional Supervisor sought the assistance of the Departmental Superintendent of Reserves and Trusts. At the request of the Alberta Regional Supervisor, the Departmental Superintendent of Reserves and Trusts instructed his staff as follows:

"...consult the appropriate files and advise whether action was taken by the Department to officially establish (the Lubicon Lake Band) as a Band, for at this time any such action appears rather short-sighted, and if this group was never established as an official Band, it will serve our purpose very well at the present time".

All of these various strategies to wipe us off the books as an officially recognized Indian Nation ultimately failed, and in 1973 our existence as a separate and distinct aboriginal society was re-affirmed by Order-in-Council. However these strategies were not totally without effect. Some of our people have never been included on the list of our members recognized as Indians by the Government; others were removed and never reinstated. Some of our people were enfranchised through deceit and fraud; still others remain erroneously on the membership lists of other Aboriginal Nations. In addition, of course, and this has obviously been the real name of the game all along -- there's never been a negotiated settlement of our unextinguished aboriginal land rights.