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Faces and voices of the Berger Inquiry
Exhibit stops at Aurora College in Fort Smith and Inuvik

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, November 2, 2013

Last week, an exhibit on the Berger Inquiry from the mid-1970s stopped in Fort Smith as part of a year-long journey that will take it across Canada and even into the United States.

NNSL photo/graphic

Drew Ann Wake, standing, one of the creators of an exhibit on the Berger Inquiry, listens to Aurora College students Elizabeth Beaulieu, left, Molly Lamouelle, Joshua Gambler and Victoria Lafferty as they debate an issue using arguments and opinions from actual presentations to the inquiry. - photo courtesy of Jayne Murray, Aurora College

The exhibit, titled Inquiry, is a then-and-now look at the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, its participants, and the issues it brought to light. It is being funded by the British Columbia Arts Council.

From 1975 to 1977, Justice Thomas Berger looked into the question of building a gas pipeline through the Mackenzie Valley, and his report which recommended a 10-year moratorium on building any pipeline to allow time for land claims and conservation issues to be discussed helped shape the future in the NWT.

"For me, that was the beginning of a dialogue between North and south, and I think it's critical to have that dialogue, and what made it important from my perspective is that southerners began finally to listen to voices from the North," said Vancouver's Drew Ann Wake, one of the creators of the exhibit.

It is visiting a number of colleges and universities across Canada before it is displayed at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., in 2014.

Inquiry was at Thebacha Campus in Fort Smith from Oct. 28 to 31 and has since moved on to Aurora Campus in Inuvik from Nov. 4 to 7.

"We were honoured when we were asked if we would host the Inquiry exhibit, because we really felt it was important to connect our students or young people with their history and encourage them to think critically about the impact of that history on their present and their future," said Jane Arychuk, the president of Aurora College.

Arychuk added more such exhibits are needed to bring history alive.

"It wasn't just reading about it in a book and knowing that it happened," she said. "It was actually seeing pictures of the people with their stories right there with them and being able to work with that material."

The college president thinks students now have a better understanding of the Berger Inquiry and the issues surrounding it because of the exhibit.

Wake, who is accompanying the exhibit, helped create it based on her experiences following the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry as a young reporter in the North.

"Five years ago, I found all my old audio and video, and I decided to build an exhibit that talked about the young people who spoke out at the inquiry," she said.

Wake then began travelling the North with photographer Linda MacCannell.

"When I found all these tapes, we came up together and we decided to see whether people in the communities were interested in seeing the photos and hearing the voices from the past," Wake said, adding they found people were really excited and interested, and they decided to create a larger exhibit.

Wake and MacCannell travelled for five summers with early versions of the exhibit and went all the way from Trout Lake to Tuktoyaktuk. In all, they visited 25 communities in the NWT and three in B.C.

"That's when we started photographing the people who had been young at the time and who had spoken out so powerfully for land claims," Wake said.

The exhibit travels with 32 life-size portraits of Dene, Inuvialuit and non-aboriginal participants in the Berger Inquiry.

In addition to MacCannell's portraits, Wake interviewed each one of the subjects and added that to their original speeches, which she had on audio and video.

The exhibit is also interactive in that students are invited to debate various issues from the inquiry, and from different points of view community residents, the government and pipeline proponents.

"And then they have to fight it out. So the exhibit gets a little bit noisy," Wake said with a laugh.

The exhibit includes photographs taken by Michael Jackson, who was the special counsel in charge of community hearings for the Berger Inquiry.

Wake said the Berger Inquiry was revolutionary in that it was the first inquiry to actually visit aboriginal villages and hear what people had to say.

The exhibit will be stopping in 50 locations before it ends up at its final stop in Yellowknife, she said.

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