CPAWS announces Thomas R. Berger as recipient of 2023 Conservation Award

Rebranded award recognizes remarkable contributions to nature

November 22, 2023, traditional unceded Algonquin Territory/Ottawa, Ontario – CPAWS has announced Thomas R. Berger as the recipient of its revamped Conservation Award. The biennial award recognizes nature champions in Canada whose work has significantly impacted efforts to protect and conserve land and ocean across the country.

Thomas Berger’s environmental work spanned more than four decades. In 1971, he served as the lawyer representing the Nisga’a Nation in Calder v British Columbia (AG), the definitive case that established the existence of Land Title in Canada. He then led the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry (also known as the Berger Inquiry) in the north of Canada and Alaska. Berger spent months travelling to remote northern communities to ensure he heard every First Nations, Inupiat and Inuvialuit voice who would be impacted by the construction of a pipeline.

In 1981, while sitting as a judge in British Columbia, he authored an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail that asserted that the rights of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada and women needed to be included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He was reprimanded for his actions and resigned as a judge. Later, Berger successfully represented the Yukon Conservation Society, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and CPAWS Yukon in a case to uphold the rights of Yukon First Nations and protect the Peel Watershed. The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada and was ultimately successful – upholding modern treaties in the Yukon and paving the way for the protection of 54,000Km2 in the north-east of the Yukon. In one of his final cases, he represented the Province of British Columbia to challenge Canada’s approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

“We are thrilled to celebrate the remarkable work of Thomas R. Berger by naming him the recipient of this year’s Conservation Award,” said Sandra Schwartz, CPAWS National Executive Director. “His decades-long dedication to nature and to elevating and upholding the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada is a true inspiration and has helped pave the way for reconciliation through conservation.”

The CPAWS Conservation Award was formerly known as the J.B. Harkin Medal. Past recipients of the honour include well-known Canadians Elizabeth May, Jean Chrétien, and Mike Harcourt, as well as dozens of dedicated conservationists, such as Jim Thorsell, John Theberge, and Monte Hummel. Earlier this year, in acknowledgement of Harkin’s dark legacy that caused deep harm to Indigenous Peoples in Canada, the organization underwent an exercise to rebrand and rename the award. The new award logo was designed in collaboration by Roger & Bronwyn Handling of Terra Firma Digital Arts and Squamish Artist, Ta7talíya Nahanee.

“Thomas was doing work with Indigenous Peoples 50 years ago that we’re really only beginning to catch up on now,” said Chris Rider, CPAWS National Director, Conservation and Chair of the Conservation Award Selection Committee. “He is the embodiment of the work CPAWS is striving to support, and we feel he is an excellent recipient of this next iteration of the CPAWS Conservation Award.”

Thomas passed away in 2021, but his legacy lives on. The award was accepted by Thomas’ son David Berger at CPAWS’s 60th Anniversary celebration, held at the Canadian Museum of Nature on November 21.

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The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is Canada’s only charity dedicated to the protection of public land, freshwater and ocean with a strong national and regional presence across the country. Working in a way that respects the sovereignty and leadership of Indigenous nations, we are focused on conserving nature to respond to the dual crises of accelerated biodiversity loss and climate change. Our vision is that at least half of land, freshwater and ocean in Canada is permanently protected to sustain nature and people for current and future generations. For more information about CPAWS and the work we do to safeguard Canada’s natural heritage, visit Join our community on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Donate today. Take action.

For more information, please contact:

Jennifer (Jenn) Brown

National Manager, Conservation Communications (Acting), CPAWS [email protected]