28,000 barrels of crude oil spilled into wetlands in the traditional territory of Lubicon Cree in northern Alberta on April 29. It was the second largest oil spill in Alberta history and the largest in more than 30 years.
After the spill, the school in the nearby Lubicon community of Little Buffalo was closed indefinitely because children and teachers were experiencing headaches and nausea. A week later the Alberta Minister of the Environment acknowledged that the province had still not conducted tests for possible ground water contamination.
The spill is exacerbated by dozens of wildfires burning across Alberta, including the well-publicized one at Slave Lake. Little Buffalo, and now the oil spill site itself, are located near these dangerous, uncontrolled fires. On May 15, Plains Midstream Canada, owner of the Rainbow Pipeline, suspended clean up efforts because of the fires. Residents of Little Buffalo and Marten Lake evacuated the area.
On May 23 over 150 people jammed into a small art gallery in Toronto's downtown west end to learn about the Lubicon's decades-long struggle for recognition and protection of their human rights.
Women Cree elders and Amnesty International representatives told the crowd that since the early 1980s the Lubicon have suffered widespread health problems associated with poverty, environmental degradation and cultural erosion. These problems include high rates of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis; disproportionate numbers of miscarriages, stillbirth and other maternal health concerns; and high youth suicide.
Although Little Buffalo has no running water and no sanitation system, it is estimated that the province’s share of oil and gas wealth taken from Lubicon lands exceeds $14 billion.
The Lubicon Cree have never entered into a treaty with the Government of Canada, nor have they ceded their rights to their lands and resources through any legal agreement. Nonetheless, since 1979, more than 2,600 oil and gas wells have been drilled, and some tar sands extraction projects put on Lubicon territory. More than 2,300 kilometers of oil and gas pipelines cross their traditional lands. From 1983 to 1997, between one and eight leaks or ruptures per year for every 1000 km of pipeline occur in the province, according to an Alberta government study.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee condemned the treatment of the Lubicon Cree in 1990, and again in 2006 and 2007, as have other U.N. bodies. In 2010 the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples wrote that there should be no further development on Lubicon land unless the Lubicon people give their consent.
Speakers at the Toronto meeting urged people to fax or e-mail the federal and Alberta governments to demand an independent assessment and ongoing monitoring of the health and environmental impacts of the oil spill.
More meetings and fund raising activities will be held across Canada to demand justice for the Lubicon Cree. For the latest information, visit: www.amnesty.ca/lubicon
The article above was written by Barry Weisleder.