Wildlife biologist and educator Joanne Siderius is being honoured with this year’s Suzy Hamilton Legacy Award. The cash award is presented annually to a female-identified environmental activist in the West Kootenay.
Organizers describe Hamilton as “a writer and change-maker with an impressive record of successful environmental and social activism in the Nelson area.” She was a founding member of the West Kootenay EcoSociety and long-time host of the Ecocentric radio show, founded Kootenay Barter, led the revitalization of the Kokanee Creek Nature Centre, started the Nelson Garden Festival, and won legal fights to protect local wildlife habitat.
Siderius has worked in the Kootenays for over 30 years as a researcher, educator and naturalist. Most recently she has found her “dream job” as the senior naturalist at Kokanee Creek Nature Centre. She says she is happiest when sharing her love of nature with others.
She shares wildlife videos from trail cameras she has set up in the park and area, shares photos of wildlife and enjoys mentoring younger naturalists and visitors to the centre. Her particular interests include kokanee salmon, wildlife populations and sharing the wonder she feels about the natural world.
“This award touches me deeply,” says Siderius. “Suzy Hamilton was a friend and was largely responsible for bringing me into the Kokanee Creek Nature Centre as senior naturalist. I sometimes wonder what Suzy would think about what we are doing at the centre. Being chosen for this award is like getting a bit of a nod from Suzy. I am very happy to receive such support and acknowledgement for doing something I love.”
“With eight individual nominations for Joanne, our job was pretty easy this year,” said committee member Jesse Hamilton.
“The comments were so wonderful to read. In addition to Joanne’s ‘pure love for the non-human inhabitants of the Kootenays,’ many people talked about her ‘amazing’ work on getting power companies and international bodies to take seriously the issue of the shore spawning Kokanee in the West Arm of Kootenay Lake.”
One nominator said: “The environment, wildlife and nature need a voice and we feel that Joanne has humbly and with passion taken up the cause … she maintains a wonderful sense of humour and a deep understanding of our interconnections.’”
Nominators also noted Siderius’ years of work with Bear Aware, where in addition to public education she started many programs which are now well established, including electric fencing and municipal garbage rules.
The committee is also posthumously honouring two-time award nominee Marilyn Burgoon, who died Dec. 18.
“Activist, elder and a force to be reckoned with, Burgoon was persistent, tenacious and demonstrated profound respect for the land and water,” they said.
She worked for the Valhalla Wilderness Society with Colleen McCrory for many years and spearheaded actions against logging on Perry Ridge. When Sinixt elder Eva Orr lead the resurgence of Sinixt presence in Vallican, Burgoon participated, leading to a decades-long alliance with Marilyn James in the fight for Sinixt rights.
She was particularly passionate about water and hosted World Water Days and Rivers’ Days events with James for many years. In the aftermath of the 2013 fuel spill in Lemon Creek, Burgoon brought her own private prosecution, which was subsequently picked up by federal prosecutors in proceedings against the Province of BC and Executive Flight Centre.
“We appreciate her inspiration, courage and hard work, and hope that she and her buddy Suzy are having a good chin wag in that other Valhalla,” the committee said.
Additional nominees this year included Lyne Chartier, Anna Lamb-Yorski and Alyssa Taburiaux. The Suzy Hamilton Legacy Fund continues to grow and with it the size of the annual award. Donations can be made through the Osprey Foundation.