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Lubicon First Nation files lawsuit against Calgary-based PennWest over fracking

BY BOB WEBER, Canadian Press

An Alberta First Nation that has been fighting for a reserve for decades has asked for an injunction against a Calgary energy company to stop drilling on lands the group seeks to claim.

The lawsuit, filed by the Lubicon First Nation against PennWest Exploration (TSX:PWT), seeks to stop all fracking activity on lands around Haig Lake.

“We’re trying to get an injunction to have them vacate the premises and cease all activities there,” said Lubicon lawyer James O’Reilly from Montreal.

“That area is the very area that was one of the reserves to be set aside for the Lubicons. That’s a very sacred place and a very, very traditional place.”

Last week, the First Nation set up a blockade to keep PennWest workers off an access road leading to a drill site. It was still in place Monday.

The blockade was not supported by the Lubicon Band, a separate group that has elected its own chief and council and is recognized by the federal government.

In its lawsuit, the First Nation argues that the Alberta government can’t grant mineral rights on land the Lubicon never surrendered to it.

The band and the federal and provincial governments have been trying to work out a land claim since the 1980s, coming closest in 1988 after a proposed settlement with traditional Chief Bernard Ominayak and championed by then-premier Don Getty. That deal fell apart in 1995 over disputes about the size of the band.

However, the province continued to issue energy leases in the area, including around Haig Lake.

That early exploration was accompanied by discussions between PennWest and Ominayak’s group, said O’Reilly. He said that consultation stopped after last February’s election of Billy Joe Laboucan as chief of the federally recognized Lubicon Band.

“At least (before) there were some meaningful and significant discussions,” said O’Reilly. “PennWest cut all that off, supposedly, when they were told (to) by Indian Affairs.”

PennWest officials have said provincial regulations require them to deal with federally recognized bands.

Statements of claim contain allegations that have not been proven in court.

The company has yet to file a statement of defence against Monday’s lawsuit and wasn’t immediately able to comment on it.

It’s the second lawsuit the Lubicon First Nation has filed in recent months. O’Reilly described the recent filing as a “sequel” to first.

Last June, the First Nation sued the federal government for a reserve.

The statement of claim calls for the band to be given title to up to 246 square kilometres of land, including natural resources and hunting, fishing and trapping rights. It wants all existing oil and natural gas leases and permits granted by Alberta to companies to be declared null and void and $700 million in compensation for resources already taken off their land.

The band also wants Ottawa to declare that the federal government breached the honour of the Crown by failing to negotiate with the Lubicon in good faith over the years and to admit that it deliberately promoted dissent within the band.

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