Tyrone Burke, July 12, 2022
Photo credit: Lindsay Ralph

The Mackenzie River delta is rich in natural gas, and in the early 1970s, the federal government and fossil fuel companies proposed a pipeline to bring that resource south to North American energy markets. The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline would have traversed lands that have sustained Indigenous peoples for countless generations. Northern Indigenous people objected, and in response to their resistance, the Government of Canada commissioned an inquiry into the pipeline’s potential impact. Led by Justice Thomas Berger, it gave voice to the Indigenous peoples whose traditional territories would be impacted.

The pipeline was never built, and the Berger Inquiry inspired one young researcher who has been amplifying Indigenous voices in policy making ever since. Now, Prof. Frances Abele’s contributions to public policy and administration are being recognized with her appointment the Order of Canada.

“This was an extraordinary period. Faced with accelerated resource development Indigenous people mobilized to protect their land. The inquiry became a focal point,” says the Chancellor’s Professor of Indigenous Policy and Administration.

“I was inspired because it allowed people to voice their concerns. The Berger Inquiry went to communities, and hearings were reported in Indigenous languages by interpreters. I had long been interested in how to democratize the public policy process, and this caught my imagination. I decided to write my doctoral dissertation on the inquiry, and in the course of doing that, I went north.”

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