When local voices made a difference

In 1976 I was a young teacher just starting out in Beaver Creek, fresh from Nova Scotia and learning about the North.

Regular stories about the Berger Inquiry (or Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry) were part of my education, as was the report itself when it came out, as well as the Lysyk Inquiry (or Alaska Highway Pipeline Inquiry) when it took place in my town a few years later.

Mr. Justice Thomas Berger created the template for this type of hearing, taking his panel to the various Dene and Inuvialuit villages in the Mackenzie Valley. Kenneth Lysyk would do the same thing a few years later.

Drew Ann Wake, who was a young reporter for the CBC in that same year, was attached to the Berger inquiry and followed it to its conclusion.

Six years ago she happened upon on a personal archive of audio tape (remember tape?) and began an across-the-North and eventually across-the-country odyssey of taking this material to the nation.

It developed into a picture, text and audio-visual exhibition, part of which was shown here in Dawson in May, 2014.

A much larger version of the material, entitled “Thunder in Our Voices” is the summer display in the Gathering Room at the Dä- nojà Zho Cultural Centre.

A mini tent is set up in the middle of the room within which you can watch videos of various people, including Berger, reflecting on the significance of the inquiry.

While it was an economic downturn that killed the Alaska Highway proposal, it is safe to say that it was the thunder in the voices of the village residents along the Mackenzie Valley route that convinced Berger to put the project on hold and persuaded the federal government of the day to back his conclusions.

Around the room there are lifesized photographs of people who testified at the hearings. Their reactions, taken down 35 years later, are recorded in four scrapbooks placed beneath those pictures.

Other photos are suspended from the ceiling, and there are a number of text banners hung about the room.

Wake has put this exhibit together with the assistance of photographers Linda MacCannell and Michael Jackson.

It is just one of several reasons to tour the Dänojà Zho (“Long Ago House”) Cultural Centre, including the welcome film in the 90- seat theatre, the gift shop, and the Hammerstone Gallery, which showcases the history of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in from earliest times up to the completion of the Land Claims process.

The centre was opened in 1998, and is located just inside the dike on the banks of the Yukon River. From its balconies there is a splendid view of the river valley.

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