Thomas Berger, pioneer for consulting Indigenous governments, dies at 88

A shot of Berger in 2015. (Supplied by Flickr.)
- Advertisement -

Tributes have poured in for Thomas Berger, the lawyer and politician whose work established precedent for consultation with Indigenous people on development on their land, who has died.

Berger’s work on the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry was credited by the Premier of Nunavut Joe Savikataaq as setting the precedent for land claims agreements in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut — which at the time was part of the NWT.

“Berger’s numerous contributions to the well-being and advancement of marginalized Indigenous and Inuit populations have touched Nunavut significantly,” Savikataaq said in a statement. 

Berger also worked on the 2005 Nunavut Project report, which was “critical in outlining the path forward for meaningful Nunavut Inuit participation in our territory and society,” added Savikataaq.

- Advertisement -

The hearings over the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry were particularly noteworthy, because they were the first to be translated into multiple Indigenous languages — a significant moment, according to Dene Chief Norman Yakelaya.

“Through his work, he awakened the sleeping giant of the Dene’s soul — we felt the power of recognition in our existence throughout Canada and the power to challenge industry throughout our Traditional Territory,” he said in a statement.

Berger was also ahead of his time in his level of consultation with the local Inidgenous governments, visiting a number of communities in preparation for the inquiry.

His actions were the embodiment of reconciliation before Canadians knew that was the just path to take, in order to begin to right the wrongs of Canada’s colonial roots,” added Yakeleya. 

“His victories did tell us ‘something about what kind of country Canada is’ and ‘what kind of people we are’. We are warriors in his honour and warriors in his legacy, who will continue to fight injustice when we see it and lift the unheard voices above powerful institutions as many heartbeats, one Dene drum,” he said. 

“Mahsi Cho Justice Berger.”

Savikataaq said Berger’s impact would be long-lasting. He was 88-years old.

- Advertisement -