The Lubicon Lake Cree Nation of Little Buffalo in northern Alberta won an early victory in its anti-fracking case against Penn West Petroleum this month.
The First Nation brought suit against the oil and gas company in December 2013 after members discovered the company bringing equipment and workers onto their asserted traditional territory without consulting.
At a trial in March, PennWest tried to have the case thrown out of court, saying it amounted to an abuse of process and duplicated another suit brought by the Lubicon against Canada and the province of Alberta.
But Alberta Queen’s Bench Justice Simpson rejected the application to strike on June 5, saying it was neither a duplicative action nor an abuse of process.
Furthermore, she affirmed that private companies can be held liable for offences against First Nations prior to formal declarations of Aboriginal title by the Crown or courts.
The suit arises due to divisions among the membership of the Lubicon Cree. While the Lubicon Lake Nation, led by Chief Bernard Ominayak, claims to be the traditional government, there is also a federally recognized chief and council headed by Chief Billy-Joe Laboucan.
According to Penn West, the company consulted with Laboucan and the Lubicon band.
Members of the Lubicon Nation said the court victory affirms Ominayak’s leadership and their position that the Lubicon never entered into treaty with the Crown prior to developing on Lubicon lands, making the leases issued to PennWest null and void.
“This affirmation supports the position of the Lubicon Lake Nation that recognition or non-recognition of Chief Ominayak and the council by Canada’s department of Indian Affairs has no effect on the reality of their authority and amounts to a communications plan designed to avoid meaningful consultation and engagement with the rightful Lubicon government and its citizens,” councillor Dwight Gladue said in a news release last week.
Though the nation noted Simpson had ordered amendments to the Lubicon pleadings, it said those changes wouldn’t affect the nature of the actions sought by the Lubicon, which revolve around damages to their lands and way of life in relation to oil and gas activity.
The suit states that oil and gas development has caused irreparable harm to the Lubicon’s ability to exercise their inherent Aboriginal rights, and demands an injunction halting work until issues are resolved.
The First Nation is concerned about the impacts of fracking on its water. The Penn West site sits near two bodies of water considered to be Little Buffalo’s main source of fish.
“We are very pleased with this decision as it means that we can continue our action in the courts against PennWest and one day see justice for the damages this company has caused to our lands, our people and our way of life,” Ominayak concluded.