New generation takes up cause in Little Buffalo - article and photo album

Friends of the Lubicon
PO Box 444 Stn D,
Etobicoke ON M9A 4X4
Tel: (416) 763-7500
Email: fol (at) tao (dot) ca

January 15, 2009

Associated with the article below there is a "photo album of the Lubicon Lake Indian Nation spanning the last two decades" located here.

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New generation takes up cause in Little Buffalo

Band still waiting for a reserve a century after 1899 treaty

Elise Stolte,
The Edmonton Journal

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dwight Gladue first started fighting for a reserve for his band when he was 22, a shaggy-haired idealist in a jean jacket and boots, supporting his chief at the table with provincial cabinet ministers.

Back then, he thought the claim would be settled in a year. Now the Lubicon band councillor is 54, still fighting for ownership of a stretch of forest and gearing up for a new set of demonstrations against another encroaching pipeline.

"As long as you're breathing, you can't give up hope," he says, looking grimly out the truck window at a broad, barren pipeline right-of-way, just now entering the west edge of what the Lubicon claim as their traditional land.

"It can't always be bad. Somewhere, someone will say enough is enough."

TransCanada PipeLines has started construction on a planned 300 kilometres of pipeline connecting a compressor station north of Manning to one near Wabasca, about 450 kilometres north of Edmonton. The company is also building a labour camp to house up to 600 people in temporary trailers about 60 kilometres north of the Lubicon community of Little Buffalo.

The Lubicon's hunting and trapping economy was destroyed in the early 1980s when oil and gas first moved into the region north of Lesser Slave Lake.

The band was first promised a reserve in the late 1930s, as a way to preserve a land base for their community. They started lobbying the federal government to settle in the late 1970s, and negotiations have been on and off since.

In the process, the 500-member band gained international support; there are shelves of books in German libraries debating the merits of the Lubicon case.

United Nations human-rights bodies have several times ruled against Canada in the dispute.

But the Lubicon still don't formally own any land.

TransCanada's new pipeline is just one more political battlefield.

Since 1986, the band has tried to maintain its claim over the land by requiring oil and gas companies to check in at the band office before starting work. They review environmental plans and look for job options for band members. Most projects are approved. But TransCanada never asked for approval, says Gladue. "They just came and told us what they were going to do and that was it."

TransCanada's Rob Kendel, head of aboriginal relations, says the company has been consulting with all 13 aboriginal and Métis bands along the right-of-way, and they've minimized the impact on the forest by following exactly the path of an earlier pipeline.

The pipeline is scheduled to be operational by April 2010. Gladue says the band could raise enough help from supporters if they chose to barricade the road, but hopes the dispute doesn't come to that.

"Someone could get really, really hurt, and it would likely be one of my friends," he says.

The story behind the Lubicon land claim dates back to May 1899, when the treaty negotiators from Ottawa signed Treaty 8 near what is now Grouard, on the west end of Lesser Slave Lake. Then they pushed north along the Athabasca and Peace rivers, signing with chiefs along the way, but missing entire bands in the high country between.

Over the next years, the Lubicon heard about the treaties and sent emissaries out to meet the Indian agents. But rather than recognizing the Lubicon as a separate society, the agents simply listed them on existing band lists and sent them back into the bush with their $5 annual allowances. It wasn't until 1939 that Ottawa sent a committee into the forest to meet with the Lubicon and grant them a reserve of their own.

The whole claim would have been finalized the following summer, except the surveyors sent to mark out the land ran into a forest fire one year and early freeze-up the next. By then, the Second World War was underway and the project languished.

For the next four decades, the Lubicon continued to live on what was considered Crown land, without rights but also without much disturbance. Little changed.

Gladue was born in 1954 and learned about the land claim as a child. By the time he reached his early 20s, bulldozers were completing the final kilometres of an all-weather road connecting the Lubicon settlement of Little Buffalo to Peace River, and drilling permits for the area were selling fast. Between 1979 and 1982, 200 wells were drilled within a 25-kilometre radius and by the winter of 1982, the trapping economy was destroyed, says Fred Lennarson, consultant for the band. Welfare rates went from 10 per cent to 95.

Bernard Ominayak, then a 28-year-old leader who would go on to become known around the world, was elected chief, and Gladue drove to Edmonton to support him, walking across the marble floor of the Alberta legislature for the first time.

Those first meetings were long; they were trying to get funding to launch treaty negotiations with the federal government. "It seemed the longer it took, the less chance of an outcome in our favour," Gladue said, adding the federal and provincial governments invented new problems every time the Lubicon had any success, he said.

In 1986, they asked supporters around the world to boycott the Calgary Winter Olympics and eventually got more than a dozen museums to withhold pieces from an associated aboriginal exhibit at the Glenbow Museum. Still the two levels of government and the Lubicon couldn't reach an agreement. The band sued, but that dragged through the courts.

On Oct. 6, 1988, the band pulled out, declared their own sovereign jurisdiction as an independent nation, and set up blockades on the four industry roads running through their territory.

Gladue was at the south camp, watching the RCMP surveillance helicopters hover above their campfires.

On Day Six, RCMP came with dogs and automatic rifles and arrested 27 protesters at two of the camps. When news reached them, Gladue and the others dismantled the south blockade without a fight.

In the days that followed, premier Don Getty met with the Lubicon chief in Grimshaw. They signed a deal and held their arms high in victory for the cameras. But then Ottawa wasn't on side, and meeting after meeting ended in failure.

The hardest time, says Gladue's wife, Rosanna Sawan-Gladue, was in 1991, when their oldest son, Kevin, died. An autopsy and toxicology tests failed to determine a cause of death.

Gladue had already lost a brother a few years earlier, found dead beside a lake after a drinking with work friends, and he was one of several who had been charged with arson after a logging camp burned in 1990. Those charges were eventually stayed, but at that time the court case, and the possibility of jail time, hung over him.

The couple thought of leaving the community, of resigning Gladue's post of councillor and passing off the fight to someone else, said Sawan-Gladue.

"I think we just said that you can't run away from anything," she says.

"There are people that moved away who miss it, want to come back. Because even if you go somewhere for 10 days, don't you feel like you want to come home?"

Today, Ominayak is still chief. Negotiations have been on hold since 2003, though detailed plans and cost estimates for a self-sustaining community have been in the books for years. In 1996, when they last calculated exact figures, the band was asking for:

- $72 million for housing, sewage, and community facilities

- $6 million for commercial development, including a general store, an eight-unit motel, a gravel crushing operation and a concrete plant

- $27 million for agricultural development, including drainage systems, wild rice crops, cow/calf bison herd, Saskatoon berry farm, large animal veterinary clinic and cattle slaughterhouse

- $120 million in compensation for resources taken from traditional lands, with half paid by the provincial and half by the federal governments. The money would be invested for future development.

They also wanted to be assured the right to set their own membership and the right to self-government.

The band has a 240-square kilometre reserve marked on a map, what they believe is owed them according to the 128-acres per person formula used when the first treaties were signed. So far, they've successfully kept all logging and oilpatch activity out of that zone.

Today, Gladue has seven children and 10 grandchildren, who all live in the community. He continues to fight, and was protesting with the Alberta Liberals on the steps of the legislature again last October.

Gladue still has faith. "Well, actually, there's no other option," he says, driving away from the pipeline cut in the forest. "In the world we live in, (a settlement) is going to take place sometime. It may not be in our lifetime, but later on, something is going to take place."

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