National parks society to rename prestigious award

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has announced it will rename its prestigious Harkin Award.

According to the society, the decision comes over its namesake, J.B. Harkin, and his involvement with the mistreatment and starvation of Indigenous peoples in Wood Buffalo National Park.

The annual award recognizes individuals for lifetime achievement in contributing to Canada’s parks and wilderness areas.

“The Harkin Award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated a significant contribution throughout their lifetime through words and deeds to the conservation of Canada’s parks and wilderness.”

CPAWS National Executive Director Sandra Schwartz said that’s it no longer appropriate to honour Harkin.

“We look forward to continuing to share the history of the award and why re-naming is so important given our longstanding commitment to reconciliation, as we work with our Indigenous partners, including ACFN, to fulfill our shared mission to protect land and water.”

A call for nominations will occur in the spring, ahead of CPAWS’ 60th anniversary event in November 2023.

The federal government created Wood Buffalo National Park on Dec. 18, 1922.

In a statement, Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation also addressed the name change and the history of national parks.

“The truth is that many National Parks, and especially Wood Buffalo, were created at the expense of Indigenous people – with Indigenous people being forced out of their homes and denied their hunting and trapping rights, all so that settlers could enjoy ‘unspoiled’ landscapes.”

Chief Adam released the statement while attending the UN Biodiversity conference, otherwise known as COP15, in Montreal, Que.

The ACFN contended that Harkin had contempt for Indigenous people, their land, and their rights.

It’s part of a 2021 report co-authored by the First Nation and Willow Springs Strategic Solutions.

“A History of Wood Buffalo National Park’s Relations with the Denésuliné” examines the formation of the park and treatment of Indigenous peoples.

“This is a man who stated outright that prohibiting Indigenous hunting rights was an essential conservation tool, because ‘even the Indians have a wholesome respect for park boundaries.’ He was openly contemptuous of Indigenous people and far more concerned with conserving animals than protecting the rights and well-being of our people.”

Chief Adam said the ACFN continues to call for a formal apology for the displacement of their people in Wood Buffalo National Park.

“Indigenous people were expelled, harmed, and mistreated for the creation of National Parks across the country. We need to change the way that not only J.B. Harkin, but the entire history of Canada’s National Parks, is remembered.”

A social media campaign called #woodbuffaloexpulsion details accounts from elders about the park’s formation in 1922 and the treatment of Indigenous peoples living in the region.

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