The contentious issue of oil and gas pipelines across indigenous lands is the subject of an exhibition opening at the Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College on Thursday, Jan. 21. The Museum at the Center of Southwest Studies will hold an opening reception for the new exhibit "Thunder in Our Voices" from 5 to 7 p.m. that evening. This reception is free and open to the public.
Forty years ago, after the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, 30 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 30 Dene and Inuvialuit villages, where young and old were invited to speak. Their voices, carried south by the media, created a wellspring 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 said. "The journey relied on community support and people's willingness to share their stories. These gifts, and more than my quota of luck, made the journey unforgettable."
"Thunder in our Voices" has been shown in 25 Dene and Inuvialuit communities and 10 universities across Canada. The Center for Southwest Studies is its first stop in the United States. The exhibition runs through May 2016. The Center of Southwest Studies, now in its 52nd year, provides an active program of free public lectures and events year-round at its museum, research library, and archives facility on the campus of Fort Lewis College in Durango. For more information, please contact the Center's business office at 247-7456 or visit http://swcenter.fortlewis.edu