A Significant Human Rights Event for the Lubicon People.

AuthorMcKay-Panos, Linda
PositionColumns | Human Rights Law

In 1899, Treaty 8 was negotiated with several First Nations groups in Northern Alberta--North East Saskatchewan, Southwest parts of the Northwest Territories and later Eastern British Columbia--resulting in land surrender to the Crown. However, members of the Lubicon Lake Band were left out of the negotiations. This launched several decades of claims and disputes between Lubicon people and the federal and provincial governments. While the Lubicons continued to live in their traditional ways, the province of Alberta leased areas of the disputed lands for oil and gas development and provided permits for harvesting lumber using clear cut methods. These activities had negative impacts on the Lubicon people. The dispute became known across Canada and the world when Amnesty International and the United Nations became involved.

The situation faced by the Lubicon Cree was one of the longest unresolved human rights issues in Alberta. While a reserve was promised to the Lubicon people in 1939, 40 years after Treaty 8 was negotiated, it was never established. The subject of the dispute was 10,000 square kilometers of oil-rich forested land, which is north of Lesser Slave Lake and east of the Peace River. Traditionally, the Lubicon Cree lived almost entirely off the land. Considerable oil extraction, which started in the 1970s in the region, together with extensive logging, had significant reported impacts on the health, way of life, and culture of the Lubicon Cree. Yet, they never consented to this development on traditional lands for which they claimed to have never surrendered their rights.

Since about 1985, there were several attempts at negotiations with the federal and provincial governments regarding Lubicon land rights, but these talks all broke down. Hopes for a solution were raised in 1990 when the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) concluded that this situation endangered the way of life and culture of the Lubicon Cree. Further, the Committee said that "so long as they continue", the threats to the Lubicon way of life are a violation of the Lubicon's fundamental human rights (United Nations Human Rights Committee Communication No. 167/1984: Canada 10/05/90 CCPR/C/38/D/167/1984. Ominayak and the Lubicon Lake Band v Canada.) The UNHRC was assured by the Canadian government that it was negotiating a settlement that would respect the rights of the Lubicon Cree. Despite this, a settlement was not reached at that time.

The United...

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