Incoming Fax for the Lubicon: You’ve Got an Oil Spill

The sad saga of the Lubicon Cree in northern Alberta is a grim reminder that Canada’s human rights record is dismal when it comes to respecting the rights of First Nations people. As Amnesty International Canada has pointed out, “In 1990, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled that Canada was violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by failing to properly protect Lubicon land rights from the impact of resource extraction activities.” 

The resource extraction in question is oil, and there have been billions of dollars worth of oil extracted from their land while they live in abject poverty. Because the use of their land for oil extraction has been hotly debated for so long, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people wrote that “…the Lubicon people continue to face dire social and economic conditions that are highly uncharacteristic of Canada, a country with overall human development indicators that score at or near the top among the countries of the world. In his 2009 report on his mission to Canada, the then Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to nondiscrimination in this context, Miloon Kothari, found that the Lubicon ‘community does not receive adequate basic services or access to water. Because of the non-resolved status of  these lands, federal and provincial authorities do not agree on their competencies and responsibilities.’ Representative of the sub-standard conditions of the Lubicon people is the lack of piped water or sewer facilities for the hamlet of Little Buffalo, where most of the Lubicon members live, a condition confirmed by the Government in its response.”

Their conditions are indeed pathetic (watch the Amnesty film here) and are getting worse. A couple of weeks ago the Lubicon in Little Buffalo suffered another blow as a massive oil spill affected areas dangerously close to waterways. The Lubicon were informed about the oil spill through a fax by the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board. From Greenpeace’s website: “Instead of attending an in-person community meeting, the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) faxed a one-page fact sheet to Little Buffalo School. The fact sheet indicates that 28,000 barrels of crude oil, or 4,500 cubic metres, has spread into nearby stands of ‘stagnant water.’ ” Had I been on the receiving end of that fax, I would have likely told the ERCB to go fax themselves, or to politely fax off. Residents, including schoolchildren, suffered nausea, burning eyes, and headaches.

Greenpeace also noted recent wildfires that could prove hazardous to the population. The fires have already devastated 40% of the town of Slave Lake. Greenpeace campaigner Melina Maboucan-Massimo expressed her hope that “As a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation, I would like to be able to reassure my relatives and friends in the area that there is a contingency plan for protecting the spill site should the wildfires draw closer. I know the community would appreciate timely information and have concerns with respect to the lack of transparency to date.  I hope and expect that a clear plan of action for one of Alberta’s oldest communities is being finalized now. Any details you could provide would be appreciated.”

Well, the best advice I can give is: Don’t unplug your fax.

Take action with Amnesty International Canada.

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