Interview: Wilf Bean (The Mackenzie Gas Pipeline: The last time around)
How did you end up in the North?
Mainly, by accident. I didn't like the job I had with the federal government and they sent me north for 2 weeks to fill in. I stayed 10 years.
How did living in the North shape your values and how you thought about western 'civilisation'?
Well, for a start, I learned by experience that people can live in other ways, think other thoughts, be organized on a different basis than in our own society. The way we are now isn't the way we "have to be". I learned from First nations' people to see ourselves as part of a much larger whole - including all life, generations past and present, and that we are just a small part of the web.
You talked about the Berger Inquiry last time around. And it sounded like an amazing process in many ways. Can you describe why this was an 'honourable' process if that is a fair characterisation?
I think the term "honourable" does apply because it was a process that really "honoured" the people. It didn't try to manipulate them but instead sincerely was a process of deep listening to their stories, their reality, their vision, hopes and fears. It was also "honourable" in the person of Judge Berger who himself took the evidence he was given and ruled in favour of the people having fundamental rights in the process of their own development.
How is it different this time from what you have seen and heard?
Several things. One thing is that there have been indepth settlements with 4 of the 5 native groups involved. These settlements have given much more control over things like schools, commmunity governments, and resources. So people are starting from a stronger base in that sense. However, they are also now more divided into their separate "tribal" groups and so have not been able to mount a unified position. As well, there are now many more young people dependent on the labour market who have no intention of living off the land.
Much of the debate is about wealth and what wealth means- can you comment about this in relation to your experiences in the north?
I think I am now aware that there is lots of wealth for everyone in the world and it is freely available, in one sense. It is the wealth of struggling to live in right relation with the land and with other human beings, the wealth of community and having a life with meaning. I think we are offered that wealth by many native people, if we are open to receiving it. For example, I remember the quote from Philip Blake, a Gwitchen (Dene) social worker in Ft. McPherson when he testified before Berger:
"I strongly believe that we do have something to offer your nation, somtheing other our minerals, I believe that it is in the self-interest of your own nation to allow the Indian nation to survive and develop in our own way, on our own land. For thousands of years, we have lived with the land, we have taken care of the land, and the land has taken care of us. We did not believe that our society has to grow and to exand and concquer new ares in order that we could fulfil our desitny as Indican people.... We have lived with the land, not tried to conquer or control it or rob it of its riches. We have not tried to get more and more riches and power, we have not tried to conquer new frontiers or outdo our parents or make sure that every year we are richer than the year before..... I believe that your nation might wish to see us, not as a relic from the past, but as a way of life, a system of values by which you may survive in the future. This we are willing to share." July 9, 1975.