An Alberta First Nation is appealing a court order prohibiting the indigenous community from blockading fracking operations on unceded territory.
Initially to Calgary-based oil and gas giant Penn West Petroleum Ltd. was seeking a seven-day order from an Alberta court against the blockade set up by Lubicon Lake Nation community members. Instead a judge handed down an additional six months during the court proceeding in early January. The court date came three weeks after Lubicon Lake Cree members began blockading a road northeast of Peace River that leads to a Penn West fracking site. The First Nation community has taken issue not only with the court order but also with the proceeding itself and the rationale behind it.
“The judge denied [us] the opportunity to raise any of the constitutional issues and arguments for the Lubicon,” said Garrett Tomlinson with the Lubicon Lake Nation. “More time must be provided for both sides to be heard.”
Lubicon Lake Nation’s leadership argued that Canada has never entered into a treaty with them, which renders permits for oil and gas development on Lubicon lands issued to Penn West by Alberta null and void. Penn West is exploring fracking between Haig and Sawn lakes, areas where Lubicon Lake people are known to carry out traditional activities such as fishing and hunting.
In late November, approximately 20 members of Lubicon Lake took a stance against the company by blocking the road. A few weeks later Lubicon Lake even filed a "Notice of Trespass" and an "Order to Vacate" to Penn West.
“First and foremost, one of the things [Penn West] has to do first is have a meaningful dialogue with Chief and Council,” said Dwight Gladue, councilor of Lubicon Lake Nation and one of the community members at the blockade site.
However, dialogue among the Lubicon themselves may be difficult, since the people are actually divided into two bands. Chief Bernard Ominayak represents the Lubicon Lake Nation, whereas Chief Billy Joe Laboucan leads the Lubicon Band, a separate group that was federally recognized by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada in February 2013.
The First Nation split during the mid-1990s, a breakup that some say was orchestrated by Aboriginal Affairs in order to undermine an unfinished land claim settlement with Chief Ominayak's group. Chief Ominayak and his council say that by supporting industry, Chief Laboucan's group is out to destroy the Lubicon lands, as are PennWest and the provincial government.
In a statement, PennWest asserted that it is simply following directions given by the provincial government to consult with Chief Laboucan's group and obtain authorization to carry out the work. But James O'Reilly, longstanding legal representative for Lubicon Lake Nation, said the federal government is, plain and simple, out to exterminate Chief Ominayak's group, or the “true Lubicon nation,” in the end, which would benefit PennWest.
“Penn West knows what's going on, they're not an innocent pawn in this,” O’Reilly said. “They basically told Bernard's group they're going to do whatever they want on the traditional lands and they're hiding behind Alberta's so called authority, Canada's authority.”
The government will only talk with indigenous people about their concerns if it falls within their policy and squash any resistance if it doesn't, O'Reilly said.
“As far as I'm concerned, it's a pretty vicious and despicable federal policy that's being implemented across the land,” he said.
Despite internal divisions, the Lubicon people have been fighting with the federal government for the past 40 years, taking their concerns as far as the United Nations, Amnesty International and the World Council of Churches. For years the Lubicon have called out the irreparable harm that oil development has wrought on the people and their way of life. The people have also suffered a series of severe health problems such as cancer, tuberculosis, skin diseases, to stillbirths, which they attribute to damage from the industrial activities.
Last summer, Chief Ominayak's group filed a lawsuit against the provincial government seeking a reserve and millions of dollars in compensation for oil and other natural resources taken from their territory. The Lubicon Lake Nation say that to date, more than $14 billion worth of oil and gas has been extracted from their territory without their consent.
“They're going to resist to the extent that they possibly can,” said O’Reilly. “If they don't get what they want in the end, for them it's a question of principle. They're going down in the end.”