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Hundreds testify before Berger

It was going to be the biggest private construction project in history. But before a pipeline could be built from the Beaufort Sea to energy-hungry markets in the south, the impact on the North's people, economy and environment had to be determined. That task was given to Justice Thomas Berger, who embarked on an extraordinary three-year odyssey across the Arctic. His report shocked the government that appointed him, and was heralded by some as "Canada's Native Charter of Rights."

The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry is burgeoning into the biggest public inquiry in Canadian history. Now in its second year, the inquiry hears from over 1,000 natives in seven languages, and over 500 southern whites. The scope is ever expanding, and the process is groundbreaking: the federal government funds research by native, environmental and community groups, and Berger turns the hearings into a major media event.
• The inquiry revealed a growing rift between native and Métis peoples on development issues. Indian Brotherhood president Georges Erasmus said his people were not ready for the changes a pipeline would bring, and needed at least 10 years to prepare. Métis Association president Rick Hardy announced that his association supported the pipeline. Soon after, the federal government approved separate funding for Métis and native land claims, though it said there would be only one settlement.

• Many businessmen in cities like Yellowknife were extremely critical of Berger and the hearings. Lawyer and Territorial Council speaker David Searle claimed natives were being coerced into presenting a common anti-pipeline front, and said that white residents were afraid to speak out lest they be branded "a racist and a bigot."

• Throughout the hearings, Justice Berger made many television appearances, but he was extraordinarily careful not to reveal his own thoughts on the pipeline. He simply told reporters to wait until his report was tabled.
Medium: Television
Program: The Fifth Estate
Broadcast Date: Nov. 30, 1976
Guest(s): Thomas Berger
Host: Adrienne Clarkson
Duration: 3:57

Last updated: January 29, 2014

Page consulted on January 29, 2014

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