Premier Jim Prentice has “renewed discussions” with the Lubicon Lake Band in northern Alberta.
After a “frank exchange of views” with Chief Billy Joe Laboucan and council on Thursday, Prentice said the province has struck three tables to help the Cree band resolve it’s long-standing land claims with the federal government as well as help solve employment and education issues in the poverty-stricken community.
“They are very focused and committed to getting their land claim resolved but that is something that will involve both levels of government and there’s work to be done there as of yet,” said Prentice during a teleconference with media.
The band has been attempting to assert ownership over land near Little Buffalo, approximately 460 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, for decades since the band was missed by a federal commission negotiating Treaty 8 in 1899. The band has filed multiple lawsuits seeking compensation for natural resources taken from it’s claim areas, most recently in 2013.
“The focus of our discussion today was peripherally about the land claim but more directly about how we work together to focus on the jobs, skills and training and employment opportunities for people in this community and the education challenges,” said Prentice.
Roughly 500 people live in Little Buffalo, which Prentice called “one of the most impoverished communities in the province” with 75% of residents not taking part in the provincial labour force.
The Lubicon Lake council would like support with job skills and training so their residents can gain employment in northern Alberta’s forestry and energy sector. The government is also working with council to advance housing projects in the area, said Prentice, noting the government moved 19 trailers from Slave Lake into Little Buffalo last year.
“These are significant steps forward. The provincial government has not had that degree of dialogue with the Lubicon First Nations in many, many, many years,” said Prentice.
Prentice said the meeting didn’t cover the forensic audit of a development corporation linked to the band. In September, an audit could not identify the recipients of $7 million worth of cheques issued by the Cree Development Corporation (CDC) between March 1, 2006, and Feb. 28, 2012.
Calgary-based firm MNP conducted the audit on the CDC for the Lubicon Lake Band, finding that over a four-year period the directors of the CDC paid themselves close to $3 million. One of those directors was former chief and longtime leader Bernard Ominayak, who received 99 payments totalling $1.5 million.