Lubicon still waiting on 60-year-old land claim

Lubicon natives and their supporters gathered Oct. 3 in front of Parliament Hill to protest a 60-year delay in the establishment of land rights agreed to by the federal government.

The Lubicon have been fighting for reserve lands around Lubicon Lake that were allegedly promised in 1939, but have never been received. The current round of negotiations have been underway since July 1998. Ed Bianchi, National Coordinator for the Aboriginal Rights Coalition, said that the Alberta Lubicon are living in third-world conditions, with no running water and overcrowded, sub-standard housing.

Ten years ago, Bianchi said, the Lubicon suffered the worst outbreak of tuberculosis in Canada since World War II. As a result, the Canadian government has been criticized for breaches of human rights by the international community, most notably by the United Nations.

Right now, land rights negotiations involve ongoing discussions around costs and responsibility for the reserve lands.

Once negotiations do conclude, development of the reserve will be managed by the Lubicon, with the federal government funding construction and job creation. Bianchi believes once the reserve is constructed, it will substantially raise the standard of living for the Lubicon.

"It will elevate the Lubicon from sub-standard living conditions to ones we as non-aboriginal middle-class take for granted," said Bianchi.

The Lubicon claim to land around their traditional home, north-east of Peace River, is only one of 100 native land claims the federal government is currently dealing with.

"We want to resolve this land claim, but they’re complicated matters," said Glenn Luff, a spokesperson for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.

"In return for a 254 square km reserve, we’re willing to give [the government] legal access to 10,000 square km," said Bianchi. "That’s not anything near to an unreasonable deal."

The federal government must negotiate with the province as well as the Lubicon on issues of compensation. Luff is hopeful that discussions will be concluded soon, and he reported that Indian Affairs minister Robert Nault is very optimistic. Nault has not seen the Lubicon on the land, but Luff said that former minister Jane Stewart visited the lake in June 1999.

"The Lubicon live on very resource-rich land," said Bianchi. "Ask yourself if that’s an issue."

The federal government has made a request that the Lubicon give up treaty rights as a condition of the settlement, which the group is not ready to do.

"We’re not willing to play the government’s racist game, and we’re still waiting," said Bianchi.

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