In July 2001, I drove my rental car into the village of Little Buffalo, capital of the Lubicon Cree Indian Nation in the vast boreal forest of northern Alberta. They fed me lunch and never gave me a bill. Elder Renee Jobin gave me a tour of their lands. I met Chief Bernard Ominayak. And I learned of a nation under siege.
Overlooked when a treaty was signed with other aboriginals in 1899, the Lubicon were promised a reserve 40 years later that never materialized. They never ceded their ancestral lands or signed a treaty with Alberta or Canada.
Industry laid siege and during the past 25 years, billions of dollars of oil and gas and timber have been taken from their traditional lands, leaving the Lubicon decimated with a compromised water supply, third-world diseases, birth defects and an epidemic of suicides and other social ills.
With unwavering government support, it is proving easier and vastly more profitable for industry to simply continue the siege and wear them down over time than to sincerely negotiate. Yes, a slow genocide-by-attrition is taking place in our so-called "civilized" neighbor of Canada.
A couple years ago, TransCanada Corp. joined the fray with a proposed 42-inch natural gas pipeline across unceded and disputed Lubicon land. It would supply natural gas to cook the vast tar sands for oil - the most environmentally destructive project on Earth. The Lubicon were denied standing before the Alberta Utilities Commission, which ultimately issued the license.
A political-business duopoly rules Alberta, supported for the most part by a compliant Judiciary. Advisors to the Lubicon have their telephone calls monitored, mail opened and e-mails diverted. With the deck stacked against them, the Lubicon appealed to the United Nations.
Three separate U.N. bodies (U.N. Human Rights Committee, U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the U.N. Special Rapportuer on Housing) have told TransCanada to cease and desist and respect international covenants.
During the AGIA hearings in summer 2008, I was able to arrange a conference call with TransCanada Vice President Tony Palmer. Patty Bielaski sat in with Palmer in Juneau (I was up in Nome). On the line from Calgary headquarters were Art Cunningham, Eric Mohan and Mel Johnson. I listened patiently to a rather long-winded overview from the Calgary staff about the people-friendly and culture-sensitive policies of TransCanada.
Then I asked my first question: "If things are as you say, why have three U.N. bodies intervened and condemned TransCanada's treatment of the Lubicon? As well as Amnesty International, multiple European human and indigenous rights groups and an umbrella group of Canadian churches? And shareholder protests?" They had no answer and retreated behind the "laws of Alberta and Canada."
Unocal responded the same, retreating behind the laws of Burma while slave laborers were worked to death on their Burmese gas pipeline. Shell Oil responded the same while the Ogoni people of Nigeria suffered environmental and social catastrophe and their leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa, was hanged by Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha. I've been to Burma and also met Saro-Wiwa's son.
Verbal cues told me Tony Palmer was getting restless and wanted to bet back to the hearings. I asked my final question: "Will you build the NCC (North Central Corridor) Pipeline across unceded and contested Lubicon lands over the objection of the Lubicon and three United Nations bodies?"
Their answer was an unequivocal "Yes." But they added an ominous qualifier, "We will not build a pipeline in an unsafe environment." I was stunned into silence. It was not mosquitoes or bears they were worried about. It was clearly physical violence.
In summary, TransCanada's reputation in Alberta is atrocious - riding roughshod over human and indigenous rights. Alaska demeans itself, and dishonors its Native people, by partnering with TransCanada. All ties with TransCanada should be severed.
William M. Cox M.D., lives in Nome.