Thomas Berger, a prominent lawyer and former B.C. Supreme Court Justice and Lawrence Hill, a critically acclaimed Canadian author and screenwriter are slated to receive honourary Doctor of Laws degrees during at the 2018 convocation at the University of Northern British Columbia’s Prince George campus on May 25.
In 1973, before being appointed to the bench, Berger represented the Nisga’a Nation in the Supreme Court of Canada in the Calder case which first established the existence of Aboriginal title and set in motion the modern treaty process in Canada. It eventually led to the Nisga’a treaty signed in 2000.
“My work has often involved me in northern cases and Northern causes,” said Berger. “It is very gratifying to be honoured by UNBC, which has become a vital northern institution.”
Based in Vancouver, Berger served as a Justice of the Supreme Court of B.C. from 1971 – 1983. During that time, he was the sole Royal Commissioner of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry between 1974 and 1977. In his report “Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland”, he recommended that wilderness parks be established on the northern coast of Yukon to protect the calving grounds of caribou and that no pipeline be built along the Mackenzie Valley until Indigenous land claims were settled. His recommendations were followed by the Government of Canada.
From 1983 to 1985, he was chair of the Alaska Native Review Commission. In 1991 – 1992 he served as deputy chair of the World Bank’s Sardar Sarovar Commission in India.
In 2013 he was counsel for the Manitoba Metis in the successful appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada for recognition of the promises of land for the Metis made by John A. Macdonald to Louis Riel in 1870.
In 2017, he was successful in the Supreme Court of Canada, as Counsel of behalf of First Nations and Yukoners, in preserving the Peel Watershed.
Berger is an Officer of the Order of Canada and a Member of the Order of British Columbia.
Berger will receive his honorary degree at the College of Science and Management ceremony on May 25 at 2:30 p.m.
Hill is a creative writing Professor at the University of Guelph and is the author of 10 books, including theIllegal, The Book of Negroes, Any Known Blood and Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada.
He has won numerous various awards including The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and is a two-time winner of CBC Radio’s Canada Reads.
He co-wrote the adaptation of the six-part TV miniseries The Book of Negroes, which attracted millions of viewers in Canada and the United States and won 11 Canadian Screen Awards in 2016.
“As a former resident of British Columbia, and as a novelist who is now dramatizing the story of African-American soldiers who toiled in the most difficult conditions to help build the Alaska Highway in B.C. and Yukon in the Second World War, I’m honoured and delighted to be invited to address the convocating students at UNBC and receive an honorary degree,” said Hill.
“It will be my first visit to Prince George, and I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity to meet students, faculty and others in the community, and to appreciate yet more of the history, the natural wonders as well as current issues in British Columbia. I’ll bring an engaged speech and my hiking shoes!”
Hill delivered the 2013 Massey Lectures, based on his non-fiction book Blood: The Stuff of Life.
Hill received the 2017 Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize. He served as chair of the jury for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
He is a volunteer with Book Clubs for Inmates and the Black Loyalist Heritage Society and is an honorary patron of Crossroads International, for which he has volunteered for more than 35 years and with which he has travelled to the African nations of Niger, Cameroon, Mali and Swaziland.
The grandson and son of African-American soldiers who served with the American Army during the First and Second World Wars respectively, Hill is currently working on a new novel about the African-American soldiers who helped build the Alaska Highway in Northern B.C. and Yukon in 1942-43.
He is a Member of the Order of Canada.
Hill will receive his honorary degree at the College of Arts, Social and Health Sciences ceremony on May 25 at 9:30 a.m.
In addition to the ceremonies in Prince George, UNBC is scheduled to hold Regional Celebrations in Gitwinksihlkw on May 28, Terrace on May 29 and Quesnel on May 31.