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  • Hilde Huus

Ian Waddell on the MacKenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry

Ian Waddell is a politician, author, and filmmaker. He served as a federal MP from 1979 to 1993, and as MPP for B.C. from 1996 to 2001. In 1974, he was appointed as counsel to the MacKenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry. When CNS member D’Arcy Thorpe learned that Ian, who is a friend of his, would be in town for a few days, he asked him if he would be willing to address the CNS regarding his recently published article about the Inquiry and its relevance in Canada today. Ian agreed, and Council got to work making the arrangements for a November 27 talk. Ian then invited Whit Fraser, the reporter who covered the Inquiry for the CBC, to join him in sharing some of his own memories of an experience that was to become a model for consultation and co-operation with Canada’s indigenous people.

Oil and gas were discovered in the 1960’s in Alaska and in the MacKenzie River Delta. (The MacKenzie River flows northwest from Great Slave Lake into the Arctic Ocean, entirely within the Northwest Territories, and forms a large delta of sediment where it flows into the Arctic Ocean.) Large oil companies wanted to build a pipeline from the north down to the USA. In 1972, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau appointed B.C. Supreme Court judge Thomas Berger to look into the social, economic and environmental impacts of such a pipeline. Berger was already familiar with issues of aboriginal rights, and had argued a case (the White and Bob case) that resulted in the recognition that old aboriginal treaty rights had never been extinguished.

Whit Fraser recalls his days reporting on the Inquiry while Ian Waddell looks on

Ian gave us a real sense of the excitement of those days, travelling by helicopter over the far North, attending community hearings in log cabins and fishing camps, hearing people address the Inquiry in their own indigenous languages, even playing baseball with Gwitchin people under the midnight sun in Old Crow, at the northern tip of the Yukon.

Whit Fraser recalled in particular CBC’s broadcasting of the hearing at Aklavik. For most Canadians, it was the first time they had seen Northerners speaking in their own languages. The CBC hired young aboriginal reporters to do the reporting. They produced nightly reports on the Inquiry, resulting in four distinct broadcasts covering six languages. Whit remembered them as being the best reporters he had ever worked with. At that time there was almost no CBC programming available in the North. Now, most programming there is in the Northern languages - almost none is in English. Young aboriginals were more likely to speak English as a second language than their elders, which meant they had important roles to play in the Inquiry. Influential young leaders emerged as a direct result of those experiences.

Berger’s recommendations at the conclusion of the Inquiry included no pipelines construction for ten years to allow time for the aboriginal land claims to be settled, and no pipeline built through the northern Yukon for environmental reasons. The oil companies would be allowed to build their pipeline if it was in the national interest. This was a conclusion that Ian said was acceptable to all involved. He noted that Berger was able to achieve this by listening to every point of view, melding them all together, and finding a solution. Berger continued to champion the rights of Canada’s indigenous people continued throughout his career and beyond. He has always maintained that Canada’s relationship with its indigenous people can serve to strengthen the country instead of weakening it.

CNS Council member Kristin Udjus Teitelbaum thanks Ian Waddell for a very interesting talk

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