Trip inspires Lubicon youth to fight for rights: Teens visit United Nations in New York as part of human rights delegation

Leticia Gladue is a little embarrassed to admit it, but her bathroom at home is an outhouse.

Dawn Seeseequon has no running water in her home so she showers at school. But she can't shower and classes are cancelled when the school runs out of water, which it did for three days last week.

Gladue, Seeseequon and Daphne Ominayak live in Third World conditions in the richest province in one of the richest countries in the world. They are three of about 500 members of the Lubicon Cree who live in Little Buffalo, a six-hour drive north of Edmonton.

The Lubicon have been locked in a long struggle with the federal government over a land claim and development has been stalled there for decades.

But Seeseequon, 17, Ominayak, 16, and Gladue, 15, got a taste of the outside world last week when they got a chance to take a bite out of the Big Apple.

The trio flew to New York as winners of a human rights essay contest sponsored by Amnesty International, the Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers), KAIROS, the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, the Alberta Federation of Labour, and the Agriculture Union (PSAC).

Their five-day whirlwind trip included visiting the United Nations as part of a human rights delegation. The visit coincided with the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Human Rights Committee resolution that Canada had violated the human rights of the Lubicon Cree by failing to recognize and protect Lubicon rights to their lands, and that intensive oil and gas development had devastated the local economy and way of life.
The resolution urged the Canadian government to start respecting the Lubicons' human rights.

The girls read the essays about their lives to the Human Rights Committee.

"Some people were amazed because 20 years later, things still haven't been done, nothing has changed," Gladue said Sunday, after arriving back in Alberta.

"They were kind of surprised by our essays and the things we wrote in them.

"All they said was that they were going to keep supporting us."
Seeseequon wrote about the impact oil and gas development has had on the traplines worked by her mother and grandmother.

If things don't change, Seeseequon wrote, "our tradition will eventually fade away."

Ominayak's essay noted that "the school, health centre, band office and very few houses are the only places that actually do have a running water supply ... which has to be trucked into the community.

"Little Buffalo has no recreation, nor any indoor plumbing, no gas station, or grocery store -- not even a health facility!" Gladue wrote in her essay.
"The people of Lubicon have to travel about an hour and a half just to get to the nearest hospital and grocery stores.

"This is what grinds my gears and disappoints me," Gladue continued. "Why can't my people and I have just a nice clean, healthy, little, happy community?"

Dietlind Bork, Amnesty International's regional co-ordinator for the Lubicon, who accompanied the teens and their teacher Carol Kastelic, to New York, said Little Buffalo could have "running water, adequate health services, adequate housing once they settle" so that means the federal government has made the provision of basic human rights a condition of any settlement.

The Lubicon believe the land is theirs, but the government says Treaty 8 extinguished the rights of First Nations, even those who did not sign the treaty, to traditional lands in exchange for reserve lands and treaty rights.
The provincial government has set aside 247 square kilometres for a future reservation, but contends the federal government is responsible for negotiating a settlement.

The teens say the process of writing their essays and travelling to New York has motivated them to continue to fight for Lubicon rights. Ominayak plans to make a video of youth talking about their lives on the reserve.
"We want to keep going to help our people," Gladue said.

Edmonton Journal, Mon Mar 29 2010
Byline: Chris Zdeb

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