Edmonton

Alberta band settles long-standing land claim for $113M and swath of land

After decades of failed negotiations, broken promises, standoffs, arrests and global condemnation, Alberta, Canada, and the Lubicon Lake Band have announced a landmark land settlement and compensation deal.

'It's no use lamenting the past. We always look seven generations ahead. That's what we've been taught'

Alberta premier Rachel Notley and Chief Billy Joe Laboucan shake hands after announcing the Lubicon Lake Band agreement in Edmonton, Alta., on Wednesday. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

After decades of failed negotiations, broken promises, standoffs, arrests and global condemnation, Alberta, Canada, and the Lubicon Lake Band have announced a landmark land settlement and compensation deal.

Premier Rachel Notley said the deal sets aside 246 square kilometres of land in the area of Little Buffalo, in northern Alberta.

The federal government is delivering $95 million in compensation, and Alberta will add $18 million.

There will also be money to pay for roads, housing, utility services and other infrastructure for 682 residents who have long struggled with poverty and substandard housing.

"This is truly a momentous day for the Lubicon Lake Band, for the province of Alberta and for all of Canada — one that has been decades and decades in the making," Notley said Wednesday at the Federal Building on the Legislature Grounds.

Notley was flanked by Lubicon Lake Chief Billy Joe Laboucan and Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister responsible for Indigenous Relations. 

Laboucan said the deal provides renewed hope for the band, but acknowledged it came after his people lived in squalor as billions of dollars from oil, gas, and timber were extracted from their land in recent decades as they worked to resolve the issue.

"I realize some things will never get resolved," said Laboucan. "I know there have been a lot of resource extraction in our area ... but it's no use lamenting the past."

'We're moving forward'

He said the plan now is to build on the work of their forebears.

"We're moving forward. We always look seven generations ahead. That's what we've been taught," he said.

"We're speaking and preparing for the unborn and hopefully that they will have a better future, better homes, good livelihood, good peace of mind and still be able to look after our land and our resources."

Bennett said the deal demonstrates the federal government's dedication to honour commitments to Indigenous peoples.

"The band has been a landless First Nation," said Bennett. "While the region around them flourished, Lubicon members were without clean running water or proper sewage disposal in their homes that recent studies have deemed 100 per cent condemned and irreparable.

"The agreement we've concluded today will change this reality for so many."

Another group called the Lubicon Lake Nation said it was not part of the latest negotiations and wants to study the details before commenting on the deal.

Wednesday's announcement was the culmination of a protracted, often heated, dispute that has its roots in the late 1800s when British officials missed the Lubicon as they negotiated with Indigenous groups in the area to complete Treaty 8 in 1899. 

By 1939, the Canadian government agreed that the Lubicon deserved legal title to their land but never followed through.

The issue, and negotiations, stagnated but took off in the 1970s when oil and gas companies carved through the traplines and landscape of Lubicon land to develop the resource, damaging the ecosystem and the hunting culture critical to the Lubicon.

Poverty, tuberculosis

The community suffered from poverty, and health issues like tuberculosis.

By 1988 the Lubicon, under then Chief Bernard Ominayak, staged a protest at the Calgary Olympics and blockaded roads into the disputed area.

That blockade led to arrests and prompted then-Alberta premier Don Getty to set aside lands for the Lubicon under what became known as the Grimshaw Accord. The deal never materialized, but the lands set aside then are the lands stipulated in the current agreement.

In the late 1980s, the dispute went global as a United Nations committee criticized Canada for its treatment of the Lubicon. 

Negotiations continued to falter into the 1990s but were rebooted in 2014 by then Alberta premier Jim Prentice, ultimately leading to the deal.

The Lubicon Lake Nation is about 450 kilometres north of Edmonton.