The contentious issue of oil and gas pipelines across indigenous lands is the subject of the latest exhibition at the Center of Southwest Studies.
Forty years ago, after the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, thirty of the largest oil companies in the world proposed to ship the natural gas across northern Canada, down the valley of the Mackenzie River, and then to Chicago. It was, at the time, the largest engineering project ever proposed in North America. But the Dene and Inuvialuit of northern Canada opposed the project, demanding that their land claims be settled before any construction began. To resolve the impasse, the Canadian government asked Justice Thomas Berger to conduct hearings to decide where and when the pipeline should be built.
Justice Berger held hearings with the industry, but he also visited thirty Dene and Inuvialuit villages, where young and old were invited to speak. Their voices, carried south by the media, created a well-spring of support for the indigenous communities. The pipeline was never constructed.
Seven years ago, Durango photographer Linda MacCannell was invited to travel on a 1,000-mile journey to revisit those villages with a team of lawyers and journalists who had been involved in the original Inquiry. The goal was to hold an event in each community so residents could hear the speeches that their grandparents had made to Judge Berger.
MacCannell also gave photography classes so students could record their experiences talking with the elders. "This work is a conversation across generations," she says. "The journey relied on community support and people's willingness to share their stories. These gifts, and more than my quote of luck, made the journey unforgettable."
Thunder in our Voices has toured twenty five Dene and Inuvialuit communities and ten universities across Canada. The Center for Southwest Studies is its first stop in the United States.
Photo credit: Linda MacCannell