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Effects of pipeline inquiry still visible: BergerMassive multi-year inquiry set the standard for community consultations
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Berger was in Yellowknife last week to speak at the NWT Chamber of Commerce Annual General Meeting.
Yellowknifer: We last caught up with you in 2002. What have you been up to since then?
Berger: "I'm a lawyer in Vancouver and I keep fairly busy there. I did a report in Nunavut in '05/'06 for the federal government on ... education in Nunavut. I have done some other things but nothing resembling the inquiry we did here in the 1970s. I lead a quiet life.
Yellowknifer: How do you think history will look back on the inquiry?
Berger: Well, 34 years have passed and I guess history is starting to look back. I think the recommendations I made for wilderness areas to be set aside in the northern Yukon and in the contiguous area of Alaska were the right thing to do and those things have been done.
I recommended that we settle land claims in the Mackenzie Valley before we build a pipeline -- and those land claims have, to a great extent, been settled. I appreciate that they haven't all been settled, but that's really remarkable and it's meant that the legal and institutional landscape of the North has changed, because those land claims are very important in making resources available to aboriginals.
Also, I suppose the inquiry made Canadians in general a good deal more aware perhaps of the North.
My reflection looking back after 34 years is what history has to say is for history to say, not for me to say.
Yellowknifer: Thirty-four years after the inquiry there is still no pipeline. What are your thoughts?
Berger: Land claims have been substantially settled. If the pipeline is built, aboriginal people will own a one-third interest in the pipeline. They have resources now that they didn't have 34 years ago. It's up to the federal government to decide whether the pipeline should be built, and I gather that they've approved of the pipeline, so it's a question of raising the money and building it. And I don't think anything's been lost because, you know, the gas is still there, it didn't go anywhere, and for all I know it's worth more now than had we extracted it and sent it south 34 years ago. But it's for the federal government and industry to decide the pipeline question now, and not for me in any way to pass judgment on it.
Yellowknifer: How do you feel about the precedent your inquiry set for aboriginal consultation?
Berger: I think when I did the inquiry in the '70s, for the first time we provided funds to aboriginal people to put them on something like an equal footing with industry. I went to all the aboriginal communities, I said "OK, I'm here. I'll stay as long as you want me to. I want to know what you think about this. You live here, it's going to affect you, it's your future." I know I stayed in Old Crow for five days -- I think everybody over 15 testified. I spent about four days in Fort Good Hope, two or three days in some other places, maybe a day only in some of the smaller places. So I spoke with about 1,000 people, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, in the communities of the NWT and Northern Yukon. So I think people got used to the idea that "yes, I have something to say, I'm going to say it" and Northerners, generally, and Canadians, grew used to the idea that aboriginal people did have something to say and they were going to say it.
Yellowknifer: Do people still bring up the inquiry when they meet you?
Berger: I run into people, even in the hotel, that remember the work that I did and it's very nice. After 34 years it's astonishing that people remember me.
Yellowknifer: Looking back, would you do anything differently?
Berger: Whenever people ask if I would do things differently, I say "no." The innovations we made funding aboriginal people and environmental groups and others, holding hearings in the communities, those were things that seemed right at the time and I think they are right.