The world’s largest known hydrocarbon resource
is neither in Iraq nor in Saudi Arabia. The oil sands in the western Canadian
province of Alberta comprise the largest known hydrocarbon reserves -- estimated
at over 300 billion barrels of currently recoverable oil. (1)
The oil sands contain bitumen, a viscous mixture of hydrocarbons that requires
melioration into crude oil before it can be refined into various fuels. Recovery
of the oil is energy intensive, environmentally disruptive, and expensive (although
the soaring cost of oil is making extraction more profitable).
The oil sands are found in three different
deposits in northern Alberta: Athabasca, Peace River and Cold Lake.
Situated east of Peace River is the 10,000 square kilometer traditional
territory of the Lubicon Lake First Nation, a Cree community of about
The community was overlooked when the
federal government sought treaties with First Nations in the area in
1899. Since then, the federal government has neglected its
responsibility to look after the best interests of the Lubicon while the
Alberta government began to sell off the resources to corporate
The presence of oil and minerals in
Lubicon territory attracted the oil company, Petro-Canada, and other Big
Oil interests such as Shell and Imperial Oil. Japanese logging giant
Daishowa came to clear-cut trees on Lubicon territory.
University of Colorado Ethnic Studies
professor Ward Churchill wrote, “The Canadian state itself exists on the
basis of the expropriation of native land and resources, the
subordination of native polities.” (2) The tiny Lubicon
nation finds itself a minority population pitted against different
levels of government, multinational corporations, and a settler court
Capitalist exploitation of the traditional
territory of the Lubicon Lake First Nation persists. In 2002, over 1,700
well sites and several kilometers of pipelines had already been erected
in Lubicon territory. (3) The federal government and
Alberta government are complicit in this theft of Lubicon land and
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 decreed that Original Peoples were not to
be “molested or disturbed” in unceded or unsold territories. Because of
past “great Frauds and Abuses,” colonists were strictly forbidden “from
making any Purchases or Settlements whatever” with the Original Peoples.
The legally-binding Proclamation was an attempt to convince Original
Peoples of “our Justice.” (4) Instead, Original
Peoples are besieged by an “internal colonization,” whereby, the
colonizing power incorporates contiguous areas and people within itself.
The ultimate aim is assimilation of
Original Peoples and their territory. In 1920, an official of the
Department of Indian Affairs stated the Canadian government’s intention
toward the Original Peoples with surprising candor: “Our objective is to
continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been
absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no
Indian Department...” (5) The decolonization struggle
of Original Peoples is epitomized in the Pacific coast province of
British Columbia (BC) where a corporate-governmental collaboration is
arrayed against them. Examples abound: the Haida Gwaii First Nation are
at loggerheads with timber-falling behemoth Weyerhaeuser, the Secwepemc
people struggle for rights to their territory, which they call
As recently as one generation ago, the
Lubicon reaped a subsistence living from their territory. This has
changed. It was reported, “From 1979 to 1983, the moose killed for food
drops 90% from 219 to 19, trapping income drops 90% from $5000 in 1979
to $400 per family. The welfare rate shoots up from under 10% to over
The result is the impoverishment of the
Lubicon. The Lubicon community is at risk. Overwhelming alcoholism,
“previously unheard of in this community” is debilitating the Lubicon.
(8) Richard White, author of The Roots of Dependence,
noted that for Original Peoples alcohol “created exactly the insatiable
demand the [European] traders sought...” (9)
Anthony Hall, professor of
Globalization Studies at the University of Lethbridge, saw a
pattern: “The history of European trade with First Nations in North
America, for instance, reveals a consistent pattern aimed sometimes
successfully, sometimes not, at creating dependencies among Indigenous
peoples on the specific goods and products they received.”
“The theme of enforced dependencies merges
with the theme of ecocide in those many instances where environmental
degradation was purposely advanced or inadvertently perpetrated, with
the outcome of denying Indigenous peoples their traditional means of
economic self-sufficiency and political independence.”
Churchill averred that because of the
resource wealth on First Nation lands, Original Peoples “should be among
the continent’s wealthiest residents,” instead they had the “lowest per
capita income of any population group.” (12) This is
the morally reprehensible conundrum: if the territorial rights of the
Original Peoples are respected, capitalist exploiters will be thwarted.
Hall recognized this: “First Nations, if they were to achieve real
economic self-determination and political liberation in their ancestral
lands, would challenge the stability of all sorts of hierarchies of
wealth and power at their very base.” (13)
This was also well understood by Canadian
authorities during the standoff in Gustafsen Lake -- a wilderness area
in south-central BC. There the Ts’peten Defenders -- Original People and
their supporters -- mounted a spirited defense of their right to perform
the once outlawed Sundance ceremony on the unceded territory of the
Canoe Creek First Nation. (14) Royal Canadian Mounted
Police (RCMP) Sgt. Peter Montague revealed the danger posed by the
Gustafsen Lake standoff: “Basically the very foundations that Canadian
society are built on, are threatened here and the RCMP is well aware of
In 1971, the Alberta government
exasperatingly claimed that the Lubicon were "merely squatters on
provincial Crown land with no land rights to negotiate." In 1981, the
Alberta government declared the Lubicon Lake First Nation to be "an
official provincial hamlet and therefore no longer available for
purposes of establishing the Indian reserve." In a move evocative of
Zionist-style ethnic cleansing, the provincial government threatened to
bulldoze people’s homes, calling them "unauthorized improvements on
crown land." The government relented in the face of Lubicon avowals to
forcefully defend their homes.
In 1988, the Lubicons withdrew from the
settler court system and declared sovereignty on their own territory.
They set up nonviolent blockades of access roads to their territory and
halted all oil activity for six days, before the RCMP forcibly removed
the barricades and arrested 27 people. Then Alberta Premier Don Getty
met with Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak and negotiated the Grimshaw
Accord, which promised 152 square kilometers of territory as a Lubicon
An inquiry former BC Supreme Court Justice
and Federal Justice Minister E. Davie Fulton upheld Lubicon rights in
1985. Indian Affairs reacted by scraping the inquiry, dismissing Fulton,
and suppressing his report. (17)
In 1989, the federal government
effectively ended negotiations with its unacceptable
"take-it-or-leave-it" offer. The same year, Indian Affairs Minister
Pierre Cadieux, in a totalitarian maneuver, conjured up the Woodland
Cree Band to attract members away from the Lubicon. Speedy federal
recognition was bestowed upon the band, leapfrogging it past 70 other
The “band” system is a creature of
colonialists imposed under the1876 Indian Act. Some Original People
felt that the Indian Act had subverted “traditional political
institutions … by provisions in the act that deliberately encouraged
individual property rights and landholding of reserve lands.”
The Indian Act imposed a top-down
electoral system that militated against a traditional system of
consensus. The outcome was “band councils [that] functioned as agents of
the federal government in a model of colonial indirect rule rather than
as representatives responsible for their own people.” (19)
Subverting Original Peoples’ sovereignty and nationhood (something never
surrendered or conquered) was the palpable intent.
With this intent, the Woodland Cree were
offered the "take-it-or-leave-it" proposal previously offered to the
Lubicons, honey coated with a federal bribe of $1,000 for each family
member upon acceptance. After the vote, Ottawa reduced welfare payments
In 1995, Alberta falsely stated that the
1988 Grimshaw Accord was predicated on population. The province backed
out of the Grimshaw Accord pointing to membership loss to the Woodland
Crees and the so-called Little Buffalo Crees (Lubicon Cree dissidents
organized by provincial agents). Getty and Ominayak both contradicted
the Alberta government’s disinformation that the negotiated reserve size
hinged on Lubicon population.
After the 1999 Lubicon acclamation of
Ominayak and the re-election of four of five councillors, ex-government
officials organized and financed a legal challenge of the election.
Kevin Thomas, a negotiator for the Lubicon Lake First Nation said the
legal challenge “went nowhere.” It has been adjourned without a date.
Government chicanery was also on display
in 2000, when the Whitefish Lake First Nation announced logging within
the Lubicons' traditional territory. The Lubicons regarded this as
federal-provincial duplicity. The next year, three neighboring bands
flush with federal funds for logging activities, began clear-cutting
within Lubicon traditional territory.
Original Peoples must not be construed as
a monolith. Divide-and-conquer tactics work only insofar as sufficient
numbers of individuals can be bribed -- something that theoretically is
easier to achieve in a community rendered dependent. Marie Smallface
Marule of the Blood Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy recognized this:
“[W]e must beware of the traitors in our midst -- those of our people
who have already accepted elitism, materialism, and individualism, who
are trying to convince us that the Canadian way is the only way.”
The Canadian Genocide Machine
Spurred by the Lubicon struggle, the World
Council of Churches wrote then prime minister Pierre Trudeau a letter
that charged “the Alberta Provincial Government and dozens of
multi-national oil companies have taken actions which could have
genocidal consequences.” It was further charged that it was the Canadian
government’s “constitutional right, power and responsibility to ensure
the general welfare and wellbeing [sic] of Canadian Indians. … to ensure
that traditional and aboriginal rights are upheld and respected. … to
ensure the just and equitable settlement of legitimate Indian rights and
claims.” Ominously, the letter warned that “disasterous [sic]
consequences can be avoided only by [the Canadian government’s]
immediate action.” (21) The letter has been much
ignored since 1983.
Genocide, as writers Robert Davis and Mark
Zannis argued, was insincerely addressed by many colonizing states
leading up to the formulation of the 1948 Genocide Convention.
“Historically,” they found, “genocide served colonizing powers. It
permitted the accumulation of wealth necessary for industrial
development from the labour of subject peoples. It rendered powerless a
large number of enemies and minorities, which the people of the
colonized powers felt superior to.” (22)
Canada was one of those countries that did
not wholeheartedly embrace the Genocide Convention. In fact, Canada
opted out of key provisions; otherwise, it would have found itself
culpable for violating its own Original Peoples. Davis and Zannis
identified the cause: “In the frantic search for natural resources, the
last vestiges of the old Arctic way of life are being destroyed. … A
few token Inuit and other native peoples may be partially assimilated
into the southern ‘culture.’ However, most are slated for welfare
dependency. … These people are to be put ‘out of the way’ of oil and gas
exploration work …” (23)
“To see people totally expendable is the
ultimate _expression of genocide. Nowhere is this more starkly revealed
than in the [Canadian] North.” (24)
In 1987, the United Nations Human Rights
Commission (UNHRC) asked Canada “to take interim measures of protection
to avoid irreparable damage” to the Lubicon Lake First Nation while it
investigated whether the Lubicons’ rights were being violated. In March
1990, the UNHRC declared that “recent developments threaten the way of
life and culture of the Lubicon Lake Cree and constitute a violation of
Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
in its dealings so long as they continue.” (25) The
Canadian government promised the UNHRC that it was seeking a settlement
that would protect the rights of the Lubicon. Little has changed since.
The Canadian government stands in defiance
of its own Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), which
concluded in 1996 that the encroachment on and expropriation of the
territory and resources of Canada’s Original Peoples is a threat to
their survival. The causes and the solution are known. The RCAP noted:
It is not difficult to find the solution.
Aboriginal nations need much more territory to become economically,
culturally and politically self-sufficient. If they cannot obtain a
greater share of the lands and resources in this country, their
institutions of self-government will fail. … The Canadian government
must act forcefully, generously and swiftly to ensure the economic,
cultural and economic survival of Aboriginal nations. (26)
In 1998, the United Nations Committee on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights affirmed the RCAP finding. It
called on the Canadian government, to respect its obligations under the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and “to
take concrete and urgent steps to restore and respect an Aboriginal land
and resource base adequate to achieve a sustainable Aboriginal economy
and culture.” (27)
Amnesty International continues the call
“on all levels of government in Canada to uphold and promote all rights
of Indigenous peoples, rather than continuing to seek ways to diminish,
extinguish, undermine or circumvent these rights.” (28)
Current scandal-plagued Prime Minister
Paul Martin sent his assurance of being “committed to a just settlement
of this land claim....” (29) Given the government
history, such assurance must be regarded most skeptically.
Defeating Corporate Imperialism
Deep Well Oil and Gas has made public its
intent to begin a large-scale heavy oil extraction program with Surge
Global Energy, Welwyn Resources, and Paradigm Oil and Gas in unceded
traditional Lubicon territory.
Lubicons sought discussion with Deep Well but it was unresponsive. Then,
on 3 March, Deep Well lawyer Robert Hladun called because the Lubicons
were blockading the work site and costing his clients “$100,000 a day.”
A meeting was arranged with John Brown, a former Chief Operating Officer
for Deep Well, but at the meeting Brown claimed to have no authority
with the company; however, he did agree to set up a meeting the next
week with senior company representatives. Since then, no one from Deep
Well has contacted the Lubicon Lake First Nation despite several phone
messages left with company representatives. (30)
Inquiries made by this writer to Deep Well and Paradigm Oil also
received no response prior to submission.
The loathsomely familiar fostering of
dependence, threatened ecocide, and capitalist plunder continues to rear
its evil head. The Deep Well project is viewed as a threat to the
environment and the Lubicon “way of life.” On 13 April, the Lubicon Lake
First Nation with NGOs Sierra Club of Canada and Greenpeace called on
Canadian Environment Minister Stephane Dion to initiate a federal
environmental review of the oil sands project.
Ominayak stated, “We believe that it is
irresponsible to allow this development to proceed without first dealing
with the unresolved jurisdictional issues regarding these lands and
without an independent assessment of the environmental, social and
economic impacts of this project.”
On 12 April, Ominayak wrote to Dion:
These are Lubicon lands. We have never
ceded aboriginal title to these lands and resources in any
legally-recognized way. The Lubicon Lake Indian Nation has never signed
Treaty with Canada. These lands and resources are the subject of a
long-standing land rights dispute between the Lubicon Nation and both
levels of Canadian government. For many years now we have been
attempting in good faith to negotiate a land rights settlement with
Canada and Alberta which would resolve the question of title in this
area. Until such time as the question of title is resolved, however, the
Lubicon Nation retains unextinguished aboriginal title in this area.
Ominayak urged the environmental review be
carried out “before it is too late.”
A groundswell of Canadians pressured their
government representatives to keep Canadian troops outside the invasion
of Iraq -- an invasion seen by many as motivated by the abundant oil
wealth. Most Canadians, however, are ignorant or, worse yet, unmoved by
the ongoing invasion for oil within the colonized confines of what the
European diaspora call Canada.
It has been arduous, but there have been
victories along the way for the Lubicons and their supporters. In 1998,
a boycott caused logging giant Daishowa to agree not to log or buy wood
cut on Lubicon territory until the land rights are settled. Similar
pressure on oil companies and governments is urgently required. The
Friends of the Lubicon are asking supporters to
write letters to the corporations involved.
is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at:
(1) Mike Ashar, “Canada’s
oil sands: a globally competitive resource,” Suncor Energy,
12 June 2003.
(2) Ward Churchill, Struggle for the
Land (Arbeiter Ring, 1999), 227.
The Lubicon Lake Indian Nation,”
Outaouais Lubicon Solidarity.
Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763” In Canada, the
Proclamation is the foundation of the treaty process from which
Aboriginal title, in the colonial sense, is derived.
(5) Royal Commission Report on
Aboriginal Peoples, vol. 1, pt. 2, ch. 13,
(6) Michael McCullough, “Haida,
supporters blockade to demand sustainable forestry,” Vancouver
Sun, 4 April 2005. The Haida feel compelled to erect barricades to
protect their natural heritage. “The Haida estimate $6-billion worth of
timber has been shipped off the islands over the years, but they can't
get their hands on a few big logs.” Kim Petersen, “The
Struggle for Haida Gwaii,” The Dominion, 6 November 2005.
Shoddy logging practices has wreaked environmental devastation on the
“Canadian Galapagos,” decimating salmon runs, while the profits flow out
of the communities. Kim Petersen, ‘I
take this as genocide,’ The Dominion, 30 September
2005. “About 30 kilometers northeast of the BC interior city of Kamloops,
on what used to be known as Tod Mountain, is Sun Peaks, a golf and ski
resort built on Secwepemc territory. A $70 million development plan for
Sun Peaks, submitted by the Japanese consortium Nippon Cable and
investors Nancy Greene and Al Raine, was approved the BC government in
1997. This plan permits Sun Peaks to expand the resort from 4,000 to
20,000 beds and put ski runs on the nearby Mt. Morrisey. The Secwepemc
rejected the development, and have since been engaged in an ongoing
battle to win recognition from the provincial government and courts.”
(7) Timeline, “Resisting
Destruction: Chronology of the Lubicon Crees’ Struggle to Survive,”
Outaouais Lubicon Solidarity, 25 February 2001.
(8) Amnesty International, “Canada:
‘Time is wasting’: Respect for the land rights of the Lubicon Cree long
overdue,” 1 April 2003.
(9) Quoted in Anthony J. Hall, The
American Empire and the Fourth World: The Bowl with One Spoon, vol. 1,
(McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003), 190.
(10) Anthony J. Hall, The American Empire
and the Fourth World: The Bowl with One Spoon, vol. 1, (McGill-Queen’s
University Press, 2003), 189. This book is a monumental work
synthesizing the threads of power and the cataclysmic effects on
Original Peoples from 1492 to the present.
(11) Ibid, 190.
(12) Ward Churchill, op. cit., 239.
(13) Hall, op. cit., 194.
(14) See Splitting the Sky (aka John
Boncore Hill) with She Keeps The Door (aka Sandra Bruderer), From
Attica to Gustafsen Lake (John Pasquale Boncore, 2001). This
extremely detailed book is an amazing first-hand account of the
machinations of the Canadian state through its federal and provincial
governments, police and military, and the collaboration of the legal
system to repress First Nations’ human rights. The Canadian judiciary
separated defendants from their lawyer of choice, Dr. Bruce Clark. Clark
found, “The domestic courts from the Supreme Court of Canada on down are
just refusing to address the law because it finds them personally guilty
of complicity in treason, fraud and genocide.” Clark was ordered by BC
Judge Nicholas Friesen to undergo psychiatric examination. This caused
former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark (no relation to Bruce Clark) to
wade into the debacle. His response to Judge Friesen was pointed: “The
appearance of injustice in your conduct was atrocious. … Your own words
expose both animus and imperious abuse of judicial power. … You give the
appearance of an arrogant and hateful tyrant determined to humiliate
Indians and destroy the professional and personal reputation of their
(15) C. Morabito, “Gustafsen
Lake: A classic coverup continues,” University of Victoria
Graduate Students’ Society Newspaper, December 1998.
(16) Much of this section is based on the
Timeline, op. cit.
(17) Historical Overview document, “Fulton
Inquiry Confirms Legitimacy of Lubicon Rights & Complaints and Outlines
Proposals for Settlement 1985,” tao.ca, June 1989.
(18) Leroy Little Bear, Menno Boldt, & J.
Anthony Long (Eds.) Pathways to Self-Determinism: Canadian Indians
and the Canadian State, (University of Toronto Press, 1985), xii.
(19) Ibid, xiii.
(20) Marie Smallface Marule, “Traditional
Indian Governments of the People, by the People, for the People” 36–45
in Little Bear et al., op. cit., 45.
World Council of Churches Letter to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
That Trudeau didn’t respond was encapsulated in his simplistic solution
to the desperate plight of Original Peoples proffered at a speech in
Vancouver on 8 August 1989: “They should become Canadians as all other
Canadians, and if they are prosperous and wealthy, they will be treated
like the prosperous and wealthy …”
(22) Robert Davis and Mark Zannis, The
Genocide Machine in Canada: The Pacification of the North (Black
Rose, 1973), 30.
(23) Ibid, 34.
(24) Ibid, 38.
Lake Band v. Canada, Communication No. 167/1984 (26 March 1990), U.N.
Doc. Supp. No. 40 (A/45/40) at 1 (1990),” tao.ca.
Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal Peoples, vol. 2, pt. 2, ch. 4,
A New Deal for Aboriginal Nations.
observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:
Canada. 10/12/98,” United Nations Economic and Social Council,
10 December 1998.
(28) Amnesty International, op. cit.
Letter to Friends of Lubicon.
heavy oil development threatens Lubicon lands,” Friends of Grassy
Narrows, 24 March 2005.