A Great Response to Indian Affairs Minister's form letter

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

November 5, 2007

Those of you who have written to the Minister of Indian Affairs regarding the appalling water situation at Lubicon Lake and the continued failure of this government to negotiate a land rights settlement will have probably received one of the generic form letters being sent out by the Minister’s office.

One Lubicon supporter, Ms. Cosanna Preston, has shared with us a great response to the Minister that takes on the generic form letter and demands a more substantial response.

Ms. Preston’s letter also responds clearly to the statement being made by successive Indian Affairs Ministers, including the previous Minister Mr. Prentice, that the Minister has "reviewed Canada’s 2003 offer to the Lubicon, and find[s] it to be fair and reasonable".

Ms. Preston writes:

"Whether or not Mr. Prentice alone finds the offer fair and reasonable is irrelevant. To unilaterally declare the offer fair and reasonable does not make it a universal truth. Rather, that is Mr. Prentice’s opinion. In a negotiation there are a minimum of two parties. The offer is merely a tool in this process. The merit of the offer can only be judged by the combined opinion of all parties involved in the negotiation."

It’s important for this government to know that Lubicon supporters cannot be easily dismissed. The full exchange of correspondence between Ms. Preston and the Minister is available below.

 


Initial Letter From Lubicon Supporter Preston to Indian Affairs Minister Prentice

From: Cosanna Preston
Sent: June 18, 2007 11:10 PM
To: prentice.j@gc.ca
Cc: Prime Minister's Office; premier@gov.ab.ca; Jaffer, Rahim - M.P.; Dion, Stéphane - M.P.; Layton, Jack - M.P.; edmonton.strathcona@assembly.ab.ca
Subject: Call for Negotiations with Lubicon Cree

Dear Honourable Jim Prentice,

I write to inform you that the Friends of the Lubicon Alberta will be holding a rally for the National Day of Action on Friday 29 June, 2007 to stand in solidarity with the Lubicon Cree. Please find the press release and pamphlet attached.

More acutely I write to express my sincerest concern regarding the federal government’s relationship with the Lubicon Cree. Fifteen years ago, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) concluded that the Canadian government’s failure to negotiate a treaty with the indigenous people of Lubicon Lake in northern Alberta had led to an ongoing violation of their human rights.

In October 2005, the UNHRC reaffirmed that conclusion and urged Canada to "make every effort to resume negotiations with the Lubicon Lake Band, with a view to finding a solution which respects the rights of the Band".

Amnesty International continues to cite Canada’s failure to resolve the Lubicon issue in successive annual worldwide human rights reports.

What’s more, the Lubicon community of Little Buffalo does not have suitable running water. Members of the community report that the water smells of chemicals, that they endure a rash when washing with this water and that when boiled, the water forms an oily scum on top. This water is only available from one point in the community. It is disgraceful that such "potable" water is considered satisfactory by the Government.

I understand that the government has offered the Lubicon a small sum to begin installing running water and sewage removal in the homes of 10 elders. The money offered by the government is not sufficient and the government plan is excessively expensive. The Lubicon Chief and Council are not holding their people hostage as a nameless federal official asserted in a recent issue of Alberta Views. Rather they are demanding what every citizen in this country deserves, running water in their community from a source that is potable, reliable and sustainable.

Therefore, I call upon the Prime Minister and yourself as the Minister of Indian Affairs to:

1. Provide the infrastructure for clean, potable running water, beginning with the elders’ homes.
Clean underground sources are available to wells, but what is provided is questionable surface water, heavily chlorinated, with an oily skim after boiling.

2. That the government implement full water/sewage infrastructure for the entire community.

3. That the Canadian Government enters into negotiations, in good faith, and with a mandate to resolve outstanding disputes of self government, land claims and restitution for the destruction of the Lubicon’s traditional land.

4. That the provincial government ceases the leasing of Lubicon traditional territory (the tear drop) for forestry, oil and gas, without the elders permission, until such time as the dispute with the federal government is solved.

Sincerely,

Cosanna Preston

CC: Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach
Alberta MLA Raj Pannu
Alberta MP Rahim Jaffer
Liberal Leader Stephan Dion
NDP Leader Jack Layton


Indian Affairs Minister's form letter to Lubicon supporter Preston

Aug août 9 2007

Ms. Cosanna Preston


Dear Ms. Preston:

This is in response to your correspondence dated June 18, 2007, concerning the Lubicon Cree.

I too am concerned about the lack of a settlement of the long-standing Lubicon claim; however, I cannot force the Lubicon to return to the negotiating table, nor can I force them to accept Canada’s settlement offer. The Lubicon have indicated that they will return to the negotiating table only when "the government of Canada sends negotiators back to the table with a full mandate to negotiate all outstanding issues in good faith." I can assure you that Canada has a full mandate to negotiate all aspects of the Lubicon claim. I have reviewed Canada’s 2003 offer to the Lubicon, and find it to be fair and reasonable. The Lubicon Nation rejected that offer which was significantly more than the 1989 offer, which was found by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 1990 to be appropriate to rectify the situation. The Lubicon continue to insist that Canada provide a new mandate that will meet their demands. The Government has a responsibility to enter into settlement agreements that are fair, not only to the First Nation settling its claim, but also to other First Nations that have settled similar claims.

Canada has invested a significant amount of time, energy, and resources toward achieving our goal of a settlement that is fair and reasonable to all parties. Canada has provided millions of dollars to the Lubicon to support its participation in the negotiation process as well as assigning extremely capable senior public servants and Chief Negotiators, chosen from outside the Public Service, to represent Canada over the past 25 years.

As you indicate, the United Nations Committee in the latest 2005 report stated that Canada should make every effort to resume negotiations with a view to finding a solution. Since the impasse in 2003, Canada has made numerous offers to return to the table. In August 2006, I wrote to Chief Ominayak suggesting that we focus on the positive aspects of the last round of negotiations and return to the table to continue negotiating the outstanding elements of a final settlement agreement. This led to a face to face meeting with the Chief and me to discuss options for breaking the impasse. Our discussions continued and we initiated a process that would have reestablished discussions. The Chief did not accept my proposal. I met with the Chief again several months ago to discuss options for breaking the impasse; however, I have nothing new to share at this time. It should be noted that prior to the impasse, agreement had been reached on the land quantum and virtually all related land selections, membership, and all the details for the construction of a completely new community. The proposed agreement for the new community is comprehensive and would have provided for all the amenities that would be found in any typical Canadian community including new homes for members, a water treatment plant, sewage lagoon, and piped distribution systems for water and waste.

With respect to the issues you raise regarding the funds that Canada has offered to install water and sewer systems for elders, departmental officials in the Alberta Region met with the Chief on April 11, 2007, to continue discussions on the proposal that the band submitted in relation to this matter.

You note that Canada has offered $250,000 toward this initiative and I would like to clarify that to date we have offered $800,000 toward the Band’s proposal. This includes $430,000 toward water and sewer service upgrades, and an additional $370,000 to purchase a water truck and a sewer for the Band. Unfortunately, we still have not found an approach that deals with all of the Band’s concerns. However, we remain committed to finding a means of concluding an arrangement that is acceptable to all parties. To this end, the Band requested $7,000 to hire a consultant to update their original cost estimates for the water and sewer proposal. We have provided these funds and are waiting to hear back from the Band on this matter.

Since 1973, Canada has settled 275 Specific Claims nationally (as of September 30, 2006). In Alberta, 43 claims have been resolved, which includes the settlement of 10 Treaty Land Entitlement Claims and two Adhesion Claims that are similar to that of the Lubicon. At present, there are approximately 123 Specific Claims in negotiation and Canada is committed to resolving these outstanding grievances to the benefit of First Nations and all Canadians. The settlement of the Lubicon Lake 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 and Canada must negotiate within the parameters in place for the negotiation of land claims which ensure that settlements are fair to all parties, including other First Nations and Canadian taxpayers.

I trust that this response is of assistance.

Sincerely,
Original signed by
a signé l’original


The Honourable Jim Prentice, PC, QC, MP

c.c.: The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, PC, MP
The Honourable Stéphane Dion, MP
The Honourable Jack Layton, MP
Rahim Jaffer, MP
The Honourable Ed Stelmach, MLA
Raj Pannu, MLA



Response to Indian Affairs Minister's form letter

From: Cosanna Preston
To: ottawa@chuckstrahl.com, riding@chuckstrahl.com
CC: pm@pm.gc.ca, premier@gov.ab.ca, edmonton.strathcona@assembly.ab.ca,
jaffer@parl.gc.ca, leader@greenparty.ca, "Stéphane
- M.P." <Dion.S@parl.gc.ca>, edmonton.glenora@assembly.ab.ca,

Subject: Regarding the Lubicon Cree

Monday 15 October, 2007


Dear Mr. Strahl,

My name is Cosanna Preston and I wrote Mr. Prentice back in June voicing serious concern regarding Canada’s inaction toward the Lubicon Cree. For your convenience I have attached this letter as well as Mr. Prentice’s response. This way you are well aware as to what has already been communicated on behalf of the Government of Canada, and your response, which I await, can shed new light on the issue.

I would like to accomplish two things with this letter. Firstly, I want to respond briefly to comments made by Mr. Prentice in his letter. As I have included previous correspondence below you can cross reference everything I mention. Secondly, I wish to address the discussion of fairness which Mr. Prentice alludes to throughout the letter and which I believe to be severely problematic. I appreciate that you are not Mr. Prentice but given the ever-changing nature of the federal government I would hope that you have the resources in your office to ensure continuity.

To respond to Mr. Prentice’s comments then: firstly, with regards to negotiations and offers made by the government of Canada, I would like to remind you and your department as to the definition of negotiation: "mutual discussion and arrangement of the terms of a transaction or agreement." It is not enough to make an offer face-to-face and presume this is a negotiation, as has been the case for the series of "negotiations" mentioned by Mr. Prentice. This is in fact, simply an offer. If no discussion can take place leading to potential alteration of the offer a negotiation is not taking place. In fact, so far as I can see, Canada does not have a mandate to actually negotiate with the Lubicon Cree. This is made clear by the United Nations call in 2005 and 2006 which states:

"The Committee is concerned that land claim negotiations between the Government of Canada and the Lubicon Lake Band are currently at an impasse...The State Party [Canada] should make every effort to resume negotiations with the Lubicon Lake Band, with a view to finding a solution which respects the rights under the [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights], as already found by the Committee." (the italics are my own)

In addition, Mr. Prentice states, "I have reviewed Canada’s 2003 offer to the Lubicon, and find it to be fair and reasonable." While I must question Mr. Prentice’s definitions of fair and reasonable, and will do so in-depth shortly, there is a more crucial element to this statement relating to negotiations and mutual discussion: Whether or not Mr. Prentice alone finds the offer fair and reasonable is irrelevant. To unilaterally declare the offer fair and reasonable does not make it a universal truth. Rather, that is Mr. Prentice’s opinion. In a negotiation there are a minimum of two parties. The offer is merely a tool in this process. The merit of the offer can only be judged by the combined opinion of all parties involved in the negotiation.

Further to these points a significant amount of the letter written by Mr. Prentice was contradicted by Chief Bernard Ominayak upon his review. This includes a denial that the two meetings between August 2006 and August 2007 occurred and that continuing discussion regarding breaking the impasse of negotiations is, in fact, ongoing.

Mr. Prentice also refers to $7,000.00 provided to the band to update numbers for the installation of running water in 10 elders’ homes. According to Chief Ominayak, this money was unknown and in fact, only received after he read Mr. Prentice’s letter and realized it was owed to the band. With follow up, the money was finally delivered but the fact still remains that the money which Canada is offering falls far short of the money needed to pay for the set-up and operation of hauling water to these homes. I will remind you that the Lubicon have proposed a cheaper option of a water treatment plant within their own community but the government continues to refuse this option.

This denial of a basic service, running water–something all Canadians should expect–brings me to my final and most crucial aspect of this letter. Mr. Prentice refers to fairness and reasonability throughout the letter but most worryingly he does so in the final paragraph. Specifically Mr Prentice states:

"The settlement of the Lubicon Lake claim remains a priority for the Government of Canada; however, …All parties must be prepared to compromise and Canada must negotiate within the parameters in place for the negotiation of land claims which ensure that settlements are fair to all parties, including other First Nations and Canadian taxpayers." (the italics are my own)

I find this quote troublesome for several reasons. I have already addressed my concerns with Canada’s improper use of the word "negotiate" but let me take the remainder one at a time. Firstly, what is meant by ‘fair’? I would like, please, a definition of what constitutes ‘fair’ for, at the very least, it would seem ‘fair’ to me that the Lubicon receive what is allocated for them in the Canadian constitution: self-government.

Secondly, why must we be concerned with ‘all parties’? Surely these negotiations are occurring to rectify an injustice. The injustice has not been committed against the Canadian taxpayers nor, in this specific case, against other First Nation groups. Thus I see no need to be overly concerned with fairness toward these parties, and struggle, again, to see how that word can be applied in this circumstance. Rather, Canada should be concerned that the settlement is just to the party involved in the negotiation. If this means that Canadian taxpayers must cede concessions perhaps this is part of the justice. After all, the injustice towards the Lubicon people can be traced back to the initial illegal occupation of their lands and injustices continue against these people as Albertans continue to benefit from the oil that is extracted every day from Lubicon lands. The Lubicon, however, I will remind you have yet to receive any benefit at all from this resource extraction.

With regards to ‘fairness’ as it applies to First Nations I wonder how this might take effect. The only circumstance I can see is that if the Lubicon were to accomplish, through negotiation, a deal with the government in which they received their constitutional rights and actually were able to achieve a standard of living that at all reflected the average living standards in Canada. Other First Nations may then think this deal was unfair but surely this is reflection on the poor treatment of First Nations in Canada and would then suggest that maybe Canada should be revising its policies toward First Nations peoples.

Ultimately, what is occurring here is a situation where Canada, nervous of the repercussions, is unwilling to serve justice to the Lubicon Cree. Instead, the government appears to be hiding behind policies and excuses of fairness in the hopes that these excuses will allow for a less impacting settlement or further evasion of settlement altogether. I needn’t remind you that promises of a reserve and settlement have been occurring since at least 1939 depending on how you read the history.

It is my hope that Canada will soon change its ways and focus on an actual solution to this settlement. Already, pressure is remounting in Alberta. Friends of the Lubicon has reformed and an interfaith group is coalescing to increase awareness of the issue amongst the local Albertan population. Organizations in Europe are also aware of the plight of the Lubicon Cree and are writing rotational pleas to the United Nations to continue its investigations. I have taken the liberty of cc’ing the relevant organizations as well as relevant politicians on this letter. I do look forward to your response and a continued dialogue on this situation.

Thank you for your time,
Cosanna Preston


CC: Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach
Alberta MLA Raj Pannu
Alberta MP Rahim Jaffer
Liberal Leader Stephan Dion
NDP Leader Jack Layton
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May
Friends of the Lubicon
Friends of the Lubicon Alberta (FOLA)
FOLA's Interfaith Initiative
INCOMINDIOS Switzerland
Amnesty International Canada

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_____________________________________________________________

Cosanna Preston
M.Sc. Candidate, University of Oxford

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