An aboriginal land claim that has gone unsettled for 80 years in Alberta may be one step closer to a resolution, after a new federal negotiator was appointed Friday.
At a meeting in Calgary, Bernard Valcourt, the federal minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development, announced that Ralph Peterson will serve as federal negotiator for the Lubicon land claim.
Premier Jim Prentice restarted talks with the northern aboriginal band last October, not long after he took office.
“Alberta stands ready, willing and able to fulfil its Constitutional obligations to the Lubicon people,” Prentice said Friday. “This land claim has been outstanding … for far too long. Today marks the beginning, I think, of an important process. One that I’m confident will see the successful settlement of this, in a fair and equitable manner for all of the parties who are involved.”
Billy Joe Laboucan, chief of the Lubicon Lake Band, spoke about his ancestors at the announcement ceremony, saying they were rejoicing to see some progress made on a claim that dates back to 1933.
“I’m really happy that we are at another milestone,” he said. “We still have so much more work to do. We need all the proper infrastructure there, the schools, the roadways, the education.”
The 500 people of the Lubicon Lake Band live about 450 kilometres north of Edmonton, in the non-reserve community of Little Buffalo.
The band was missed by federal treaty commissioners in the early 1900s and insists it has never given up rights to any of its northern territory. The Lubicon gained an international profile in 1988, when the New York Times called it “the tribe Canada forgot.”
A settlement was nearly reached that year, but broke down after a disagreement with Ottawa over band membership.
Laboucan was voted in as chief in 2013, in the first federally recognized election for the band.
His rival, Bernard Ominayak, still leads a group of Lubicon Cree, and refers to himself as the traditional chief.