So much changes, so much stays the same

It was so long ago, I barely remember the 1970s – pre-home computer, and seriously pre-World Wide Web. Can we even cast our minds back that far, remember what a pre cell-phone/texting day was like at all? No facebook? No e-mail?

And yet to pick up Thomas Berger’s Mackenzie Pipeline Report of 1977, you might as well be reading about the current Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel’s northern tours.

The Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline was proposed to run 3860 km (2600 miles) from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, across the northern Yukon and the south through the Mackenzie River delta to existing pipelines systems in central Alberta. The project had been proposed by a consortium of 27 Canadian and American companies.

After a well-travelled inquiry from 1974 to 1977,  Thomas Berger recommended to the federal government of the day (led by Pierre Trudeau) that the proposed pipeline NOT go ahead.

In his report, Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland, Berger eloquently and compassionately explored the implications of a proposed pipeline on the environment, the people and the communities of Canada’s north.

“The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline would be to the North what the Canadian Pacific had been to the West.

Who could be against such an undertaking? It had progress written all over it. I went to the North assuming that the pipeline represented the means of bringing northerners into the mainstream of the Canadian economy. My assumption was shared by most Canadians. But as the hearings went on, I realized that the environmental losses would be severe, the opposition of the native people unyielding, and the issues we faced far more difficult than we had thought.”

During his travels in the north, Berger’s ear became more and more attentive to differences expressed between a southern industrialized urban life-style, and the northern way of life built on the economies of the land. He travelled through distant and isolated landscapes. He visited small communities in the north transcribing and reporting First Nations testimony about land title and rights, local economic systems, cultural traditions in society and law.

At the end of his journeys, he said in his report:

“The choice we make will decide whether the North is to be primarily a frontier for industry or a homeland for its peoples. We shall have the choice only once. Any attempt to beg the question that now faces us, to suggest that a choice has already been made or need never be made will be an inexcusable evasion of responsibility.

The issues we face are profound ones, going beyond the ideological conflicts that have occupied the world for so long, conflicts over who should run the industrial machine, and who should reap the benefits. Now we are being asked: How much energy does it take to run the industrial machine? Where must the energy come from? Where is the machine going? And what happens to the people who live in the path of the machine?”


About blue sea sky

By Cynthia Jones Davies, writer researcher who lives on Haida Gwaii.
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