Lubicon Cree ‘checkpoints’ challenge oil industry

Lubicon Cree ‘checkpoints’ challenge oil industry
Sherry, Loretta and Chantel Laboucan demonstrate at the Seal Lake oilfield checkpoint in the Lubicon community of Little Buffalo.Photo: Garrett Tomlinson.

The Lubicon Lake Cree Nation set up multiple checkpoints throughout the oil and gas fields contained within its traditional lands last Wednesday in solidarity with Idle No More actions taking place across the country, which saw highways, border crossings and railways blockaded.

Members of the First Nation, located in northwestern Alberta, held demonstrations on roads leading to the oilfields, hoping the delay in traffic would get their message out and warn oil companies “it could get worse.”

“It is time for industry to recognize that we are awake, and we’re not going to let this type of exploitation continue around us without serious changes,” Chief Bernard Ominayak said in an official statement.

According to the Lubicon communications liaison, Garrett Tomlinson, checkpoints were set up at the entrances to the Otter Lakes, EVI, Golden, Seal Lake and Lubicon oilfields. Nearly 100 people attended the demonstrations that lasted from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

The First Nation’s traditional territory, known as “the teardrop,” has been the site of legal challenges concerning the oil and gas industry since the 1950s when companies began doing exploratory work in the area.

Although the demonstration took place on roadways, the First Nation said the action should not be considered a blockade, but rather a peaceful “exercise of jurisdiction.”

“We’re not out blocking the roads and shutting things down; we’re not at that point,” Councillor Bryan Laboucan said. “All we’re doing here today is taking a few minutes to talk to people visiting our territory, whether for work or just passing through, and educate them on our situation.”

The First Nation claims recent fires related to oilfield development and the devastating Plains Midstream pipeline spill in the spring of 2011, which leaked 4.5 million litres of oil near the community, have negatively impacted members’ ability to hunt, trap and fish on their lands, and contributed to diseases related to poor air and water quality, such as asthma, cancer and stillbirths.

Though the Lubicon filed a caveat against oil and gas exploration in 1975, asserting that the First Nation had not extinguished title on its land and treaty rights, legislation introduced by the Alberta government in 1977 removed the legal basis for the case. By 1982, there were over 400 wells within a 15-mile radius of Lubicon territory.

Lubicon has yet to extinguish title to its territory and remains without a treaty or land rights settlement with the Crown.

The Alberta government has issued thousands of oil and gas leases on Lubicon territory. To date, an estimated $14 billion in petroleum resources have been extracted.

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