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Journalists for Human Rights, University of Alberta E-News

Monday, February 25, 2008

National News - Lubicon Cree

Jumbo pipeline threatens Lubicon Cree By: Dietlind Bork

Disputed land. Multinational Corporations. United Nations condemnations. The "challenge" that Prime Minister Stephen Harper likens to "the building of the pyramids or China’s Great Wall. Only bigger." Finally, a new jumbo pipeline proposal. Welcome to the latest chapter in the fight of the Lubicon Cree – a fight for survival.

The Lubicon Lake Nation is an Aboriginal band of 500 people living in Northern Alberta. Due to a number of oversights on the part of crown officials in the signing of Treaty 8 in the late 1800s, the Lubicons have never signed away or lost their traditional lands. To this day, the Lubicons retain inherent, internationally recognized rights to those lands.

Lubicon land ownership was not heavily debated until 1975 when petroleum companies and forestry giants began to arrive. Practically overnight an intact and self-sufficient community was faced with a catastrophic decline in wildlife, water contamination, and tuberculosis outbreaks. Many people in the community were reduced to dependency on welfare.

The Lubicons attempted to file a notice with the Alberta Land Registry Office to contest the province's claimed ‘ownership' over some of the area scheduled for development -unceded Aboriginal land incorrectly referred to by Alberta and Canada as "Crown Land". The Province refused to accept and file the notice as provincial law at the time required. As a 2003 report by Amnesty International explains, the matter was referred to a provincial court for judgment. While the case was before the court, the Alberta government passed a new law that retroactively prohibited certain title claims on crown land. When tabling the bill in the legislature in 1977, the Attorney General at the time referred to this as "tidying the law" and "plugging a loophole" in existing statutes. What this loophole plugging accomplished was to allow courts to reject the Lubicon case. Under the new, retroactive law the Lubicon case no longer had any basis.

The United Nations’ (UN) repeated recommendations and condemnations have done little to influence Canada’s approach to negotiating with the Lubicon. Most recently in November 2007, Special Rapporteur for Housing, Miloon Kothari, visited the Lubicon community of Little Buffalo, witnessing what he describes as "overcrowded and inadequate housing conditions, as well as difficulties to access basic services, including water and sanitation." Echoing similar calls by the UN in 1990 and 2005, Kothari called for a "moratorium on all oil and extractive activities in the Lubicon region until a settlement is reached with Lubicon Lake Nation."

Yet on November 21, 2007, just over a month after Kothari’s UN visit, Calgary-based TransCanada Pipelines filed an application with the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board to construct a "North Central Corridor," a $1-billion, 300-kilometre, natural gas "jumbo" pipeline. It cuts right through Lubicon traditional territory. Aaron Chubb from Friends of the Lubicon Alberta (FOLA), a University of Alberta group in solidarity with the Lubicon points out that "to date the Lubicon Nation has not been adequately informed of this pipeline, nor have they agreed to its construction." Despite this, TransCanada claims that it has "consulted extensively" with First Nations communities located in the area and that it has "received no objections."

FOLA’s Colin Piquette says that "the main questions the Lubicons have asked TransCanada about the North Central Corridor (NCC) are about the total impact it will have on their unceded land - for instance, how many lines will be feeding the proposed pipeline." In an area littered with oil wells, scarred by clear-cutting, and polluted by a hilltop sour gas plant, understanding the repercussions of yet another Alberta-approved development is key. As of now the majority of Lubicon concerns have not been addressed. "Instead of addressing Lubicon concerns," Piquette explains, "the company has merely orchestrated a series of monthly visits to the Lubicon community whereby public relations employees are (in their own words) "just dropping by to say hello. TransCanada is creating the illusion that they are working to address Lubicon concerns. These visits are meaningless and TransCanada knows it."

TransCanada’s North Central Corridor (NCC) is to be a 42-inch wide (or 1.07 meter wide) natural gas pipeline installed with "26 megawatts of additional compression and associated facilities." As coordinator of Oilsandstruth.org Macdonald Stainsby points out, this "monster of a pipeline is far above average," both in terms of size and pressure. According to TransCanada, the pipeline is "needed to address" four areas: "increasing gas supply in northwest Alberta, declining gas supply in northeast Alberta, growing intra-Alberta markets resulting largely from increased oil sands development and reduced delivery capability to interconnecting pipelines." But FOLA’s Colin Piquette asks, "are these really four separate areas, or are all four merely the results of plans to fuel expansion of the tar sands operation?" He recalls Globe and Mail David Ebner’s interview with TransCanada’s chief executive officer, Hal Kvisle, where Kvisle suggests that the NCC will exist merely to "feed Fort McMurray."

According to Macdonald Stainsby, "gas delivered by the NCC would be the fuel to help a massive expansion of tar sands operations, in the neighborhood of three times the current (already unprecedented) rate of growth and extraction of oil from sand." Furthermore, according to Stainsby, the jumbo pipeline’s monstrous size alone reveals the role the NCC will play in linking the Mackenzie Valley gas project and the yet-to-be-constructed Alaska Highway Pipeline to Alberta’s tar sands extraction.

In fact, on December 15, 2007 TransCanada, which had already submitted a proposal to build an Alaskan natural gas pipeline, presented a new financial plan to the federal government for the $16-billion Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. "Their motivation is undeniable," says Stainsby, referring to how TransCanada’s NCC will funnel Alaskan and NWT gas to the tar sands. Demand from US markets for oil from the tar sands will put TransCanada in a very strategic place: their pipelines, stretching across Alberta, British Columbia, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Alaska, will be the main energy source for exploitation of the tar sands.

The Lubicons stand between that vast network of proposed pipelines and the tar sands. As Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak told Amnesty International in 2003: "We never had anything fancy, but we never went hungry. Then all of a sudden they found oil and we were caught in a situation where we were in the way."

FOLA continues to demand that the new Alberta Utilities Commission not approve TransCanada’s NCC pipeline without TransCanada first conducting meaningful consultation, recognizing Lubicon land is not under provincial jurisdiction, and honouring the UN-recommended moratorium.

For updates on the Lubicon situation, visit http://www.lubicon.org.

For TransCanada NCC information visit http://www.transcanada.com/news/2007_news/20071121.html


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