For our children's children: an educator's interpretation of Dene testimony to the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry




Chambers, Cynthia Maude

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This study is an educator's interpretation of the transcribed testimony of four Dene witnesses to the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry conducted by Justice Thomas Berger in the Canadian north during the mid-1970s. This study uses Calvin Schrag's (1986) notion of communicative praxis to provide a form of critical hermeneutics for the interpretation of text. Communicative praxis offers us a way to understand texts as discourse about something, by someone, and for someone. The world, the self, and the other are all displayed in any particular communicative event and thus it is in the holistic space of communicative praxis where thought, language and action interplay and are contextualized in our everyday lives. The orienting question brought to the reading of each of these texts has been "What is going on in this person's testimony?" In other words, what is this person's experience of being human, and of being Dene, and in what way is that experience disclosed through the language of their text? This piece explores who the four speakers were (the backdrop of historical circumstances as well as social practices and traditions within which the witnesses lived their lives, and in which they gave their testimony to the Inquiry), what they were saying (particularly what the speakers referenced about their lived world, as well as what they signified about the cultural, linguistic and historical tradition in which they stood) and to whom they were speaking and how they were saying it (the rhetorical moment). The speakers employed metaphor, irony, personal stories, as well as more rational forms of persuasion to call into question the morality of white people and those Western social and institutional practices which had dramatically altered the landscape of Dene lives and Dene land, and were continuing to do so. The interpretation elucidates the Dene ideal of respectfulness of "the other," a notion of the other which includes human life, as well as all living beings and the Earth itself; and a call to envision the future in terms of our children and the-yet-to-be-born. The study concludes with a personal elucidation of the pedagogical significance of the text interpretations.



Justice Thomas Berger, communicative praxis, critical hermeneutics, holistic space, Calvin Schrag