Lubicon Lake Band Chief Billy Joe Laboucan credits the “aligning of the planets” for bringing about the willingness of his community, Ottawa and the province to negotiate a successful claims agreement.
In four votes held over a number of days, and ballots tallied on Oct. 15, 98 per cent of community members who voted ratified the agreement. Seventy-five per cent of the 500 members eligible to vote did so.
The claims settlement sees the Lubicon Lake Band receive 246 square kilometres of land, $95 million from the federal government and $18 million from the province in financial compensation, and community infrastructure such as roads, utility services and Internet.
It’s a far cry from the $13 billion in resources that has been taken from the land since a large oil reserve was found in the mid-1950s.
“I realize some things will never get resolved,” said Laboucan at a press conference in Edmonton on Oct. 24. “I know there’s been a lot of resource extraction in our area…. It’s no use lamenting the past. We have to look into the future.”
That future, he said, holds new houses, a school, a health centre, a recreation centre with an arena, a new administration building. It also holds jobs from new infrastructure and economic development possibilities. Half the population is under 25 years of age and this settlement provides them with a bright future.
Laboucan said the agreement built upon the legacy of former Chief Bernard Ominayak and the past council.
The agreement marks decades of tumultuous interaction between the band and the federal and provincial governments and decades of off-again on-again negotiations for a settlement and court battles to stop resource development.
Ominayak, who was elected in 1978, aggressively led the charge for the Lubicon Lake Band. No time was there more tension between the band and the governments than in 1988, when Lubicon Lake members put up a blockade to stop access to their land. Five days later, the RCMP arrested 27 band members and supporters and the blockade came down.
Premier Rachel Notley said when her government was newly elected it made it a priority to continue the talks re-started by former Premier Jim Prentice with Laboucan. That work was supported by Crown-Indigenous Relation and Northern Affairs Canada Minister Carolyn Bennett.
“There was an alignment of everybody being very committed to make the time and the effort and dedicate the resources to actually making it happen,” said Notley.
“I had the mandate to move forward on these issues around accelerating self-determination and have people have control over their land and governance of their people,” said Bennett.
In 1899, the Crown signed Treaty No. 8 with bands in northern Alberta, but the Lubicon Lake Band was left out because of their isolated location.
Laboucan said finally having the adhesion to Treaty 8 is “bittersweet because all of the people who started this, our parents, our grandparents, they’re not here.” He says his ancestors first lobbied the government for adhesion in 1933.
Notley, who pointed out her late father, NDP MLA Grant Notley, spoke in the Legislature about this issue in the late 1970s and early 1980s, said it was “unfortunate” the amount of time that was lost in getting the claim settled.
“I’m glad that starting now we’re able to start taking it back and the community is able to start taking it back,” she said.
Laboucan said he is comfortable with the final settlement.
“That’s the nature of negotiations. At a certain point, you know, you have to cut the deal and sign the agreement otherwise we’d be here for another hundred years,” he said.
The agreement will be celebrated with the community on Nov. 13 and further details on the agreement will be released then, said Bennett.