Lubicon Lake Band signs historic land claim deal
$121 million settlement reached with Ottawa, province ‘a long time coming’
EDMONTON A land claim dispute that spanned 85 years, spurred an Olympic protest and became a symbol for Indigenous selfdetermination in Canada ended Wednesday when the Lubicon Lake Band inked a $121-million deal with the federal and provincial governments.
“There is no use lamenting the past, we have to look into the future,” said Chief Billy Joe Laboucan at a news conference held at the Federal Building on the Alberta legislature grounds. “This has been a long time coming.”
Members of the Lubicon Lake Band, a 680-strong community once described by the New York Times as “the tribe Canada forgot," have never benefited from the oil and gas industry that boomed around them in northern Alberta, he said. Instead the community continues to live in impoverished conditions.
“Most of our homes are mouldy, no running water,” Laboucan said.
But the deal — which included $95 million in compensation from Ottawa and $18 million from the province — will change that, he said. It also outlined $8 million in federal funding to cover negotiating costs.
The First Nation that was left without a reserve when members didn’t sign Treaty 8 in 1899 will now have 246 square kilometres of land near Little Buffalo.
Ottawa has also promised infrastructure development including housing, a new school, internet, utility services and roads.
“These changes will bring dignity and healing to community members who have waited decades,” said federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett.
“While the region around them flourished, Lubicon members were without clean running water, proper sewage disposal in their homes — homes that recent studies have deemed 100 per cent condemned and irreparable,” she said, adding the agreement seeks to address historic wrongdoing.
When the Lubicon Lake Band didn’t sign Treaty 8 more than a century ago, the community was left without federal support. A land claim launched in 1933 was followed by decades of on-and-off negotiations.
“You have made tireless efforts to protect your land, your traditions and your people,” Premier Rachel Notley said at the news conference.
She referenced ongoing criticisms from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, which noted in a 2010 report that more than 2,600 oil and gas wells were drilled on Lubicon land in the preceding decades.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee recognized the violation of Indigenous rights following a complaint filed in the 1980s by then-chief Bernard Ominayak.
Tension peaked when he spearheaded efforts to protest the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary and a related Glenbow Museum Indigenous exhibit. Later that year, community members created a blockade on oil and gas roads leading into their territory in an effort that was eventually dismantled when police made arrests.
It was also the year when thenpremier Don Getty signed an agreement in principle in Grimshaw, and again during negotiations with the federal government in 1992. That deal never came to fruition, but the land boundaries outlined in the latest settlement are the same.
Notley acknowledged the role of former Progressive Conservative premier Jim Prentice in ending the dispute, who in 2014 paid a visit to the First Nation and effectively restarted negotiations.
He was the first sitting premier in nearly two decades to visit Indigenous communities in northern Alberta and helped the Lubicon Lake Band to launch a land claim.
Wednesday’s milestone was bittersweet given that many band members who launched the original land claim in 1933 are no longer alive, Laboucan said.
“We always look forward seven generations ahead, that’s what we’ve been taught,” he added.
He said there aren’t outstanding issues with the settlement.
“At a certain point you have to cut the deal ... otherwise we’d be here for another 100 years.”
A ceremonial signing will be held Nov. 13 in the Lubicon Lake Band community. Little Buffalo is about 460 km northwest of Edmonton and 100 km northeast of Peace River.
While the region around them flourished, Lubicon members were without clean running water, proper sewage disposal in their homes.
Premier Rachel Notley and Lubicon Lake Band Chief Billy Joe Laboucan take part in a news conference Wednesday after the band, Ottawa and the province reached a land claim settlement. “You have made tireless efforts to protect your land, your traditions and your people,” Notley said.