Vue Weekly (Edmonton)
October 23, 2008

Vuepoint: Stop the pipeline

Scott Harris

Even by the standards of Canada’s abysmal treatment of First Nations peoples, the situation faced by the Lubicon Lake Indian Nation of northern Alberta is an embarrassing blight on our national reputation.

The small nation was overlooked during treaty negotiations with the federal government in the 1880s, and as a result the Lubicon Cree have never ceded any rights over their traditional territory. Despite this fact, the Lubicon have suffered an onslaught of oil and gas development since the provincial government first opened an all-weather road into their territory in 1979. The Lubicon’s traditional economy centred around hunting and trapping has been devastated by over 2000 oil and gas wells which now dot their land–extracting billions of dollars in resources, from which the Lubicon receive no benefits.

Despite promises of recognition, five rounds of negotiations -- the last of which broke down in 2003 -- have failed to reach a negotiated settlement. The United Nations Human Rights Commission has twice urged the Canadian government to reach a settlement with the Lubicon, and in 2005 the body called on the federal government to ensure the Lubicon are consulted "before granting licences for economic exploitation of the disputed land."

The latest threat is TransCanada Pipelines’ plan for a jumbo pipeline through Lubicon territory, which received approval October 10 from the Alberta Utilities Commission. The Lubicon -- along with Amnesty International -- is demanding that construction be halted until TransCanada has fully consulted with the nation and their land rights are recognized.

In the legislature last week, both opposition parties called on the government to suspend construction of the pipeline, but Minister of Aboriginal Relations Gene Zwozdesky rejected such calls, saying it is a federal responsibility to negotiate with the Lubicon. TransCanada, for its part, says it has already had a series of meetings with the Lubicon and that they plan to begin construction later this year. Once again for the Lubicon, responsibility is shuffled around while development proceeds. 

It’s time for Canadians and Albertans to demand action to resolve this shameful situation, and putting a stop to this pipeline until that happens might finally bring an end to our long-broken promises to the Lubicon.