The Canadian Aboriginal History Prizes



Best Book Prize

Susan Hill,  The Clay We Are Made Of: Haudenosaunee Land Tenure on the Grand River (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2017).

susan_hill.pngWith The Clay We Are Made Of: Haudenosaunee Land Tenure On the Grand River (University of Manitoba Press), Susan Hill offers a path-breaking re-interpetation of the history of the Haudenosaunee.  Hill’s work speaks to a wide-range of scholars in history as well as to scholars in Indigenous Studies. Hill’s contribution is significant because it models how historians can engage with Indigenous ontologies and thereby reorient their interpretive tools and Indigenize their practice.  She draws upon diverse sources that go well beyond the colonial record to include oral records, Creation stories, wampum strings, and linguistic analysis.  She firmly grounds the history of the Haudenosaunee within the context of overlapping relationships: relationships with the earth and relationships with the ancestors.  By doing so, she decenters and reinterprets the relationship that has more commonly dominated the field of Indigenous history, that between Indigenous peoples and Europeans.  By situating her chronological history of Haudenosaunee interactions with Dutch, French, and British colonizers within a Haudenosaunee relational worldview, Hill irrevocably changes how historians interpret written colonial records.  Moreover, she extends her work to connect past and present—showing how the past endures in the present—and thus underscores the contemporary import of the work in which historians engage.  

Honourable Mention

Marianne Ignace & Ronald E. IgnaceSecwépemc People, Land, and Laws: Yerí7 re Stsq'ey's-kucw. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017.

abo_hm_authors_picture.jpgMarianne Ignace and Ronald E. Ignace make a major and unique contribution with their monumental book Secwépemc People, Land, and Laws: Yerí7 re Stsq'ey's-kucw.  With this work, the Ignaces make available to readers many decades of work, research, knowledge, and life experience.  The authors speak to scholarly conversations in a wide array of disciplines including history, law, anthropology, Indigenous Studies, and beyond.  Their book offers a deep history of the Secwépemc across millennia. It does so through the lens of an Indigenized methodology that draws together both Secwépemc knowledge—in the forms of lived experience, oral knowledge, ontology, and law among others—and knowledge produced through the disciplinary conventions of the Western academy—in the forms, for example, of ethnobotany, archaeological findings, and colonial documents.  The authors underscore the long-standing, enduring nature of Secwépemc collective identity and emphasize the strategies of resilience the Secwépemc have employed in the face of settler colonialism.  The Ignaces have authored a book that provides an unparalleled exemplar for Indigenized, collaborative scholarly practice.

Best Article Prize

Micah A. Pawling, “W?last?kwey (Maliseet) Homeland: Waterscapes and  Continuity within the Lower St. John River Valley, 1784-1900”. Acadiensis XLVI, no. 2 (Summer/Autumn 2017).


In “Maliseet Homeland” Micah Pawling builds an empirically-nuanced and theoretically-informed argument demonstrating Maliseet strategies for remaining in their homeland despite intense pressures caused by colonial immigration. Focusing on the southern Saint John River, between the colonial centres of Saint John and Fredericton, Pawling’s article uses the concept of waterscape and an analysis of memory to reorient our attention away from the political, social, economic, and cultural boundaries that often structure the historian’s craft. What Pawling makes clear is that, by using both formal and informal strategies, during the 19th century many Maliseet continued living in their homeland despite settler-caused pressure on resources and the colonial state’s efforts to erase their presence. In so doing, Pawling’s work develops recent scholarship on decolonizing methodologies, historical memory, space, place, dispossession and survivance.  





Best Book Prize


Separate Beds brings together the perspectives of hospital survivors with the stark reality found in the archive, telling a grim story of institutional racism with compassion, while also emphasizing the strength and resolution of Indigenous communities to manage their own health care to create a better, more equal society.




Best article Prize

Allan Downey, "Playing the Creator's Game on God's Day: The Controversy of Sunday Lacrosse Games in Haudenosaunee Communities, 1916-24", Journal of Canadian Studies 49, no. 3 (2015).


Masterfully weaving together the experiences of communities and local cultures and politics with broader national policies and processes, Allan Downey’s analysis of the controversy surrounding Sunday lacrosse games in two Haudenosaunee communities (Akwesáhsne and Six Nations) in the early decades of the last century carefully documents the spectrum of Indigenous and non-Indigenous viewpoints while demonstrating convincingly that the struggle was never only about sport or religion, but about self-determination. It is an important and timely contribution to our understanding of the nature of modern colonialism and of the forms of Indigenous resistance.



Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald M. Derrickson, Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call. Between the Lines, 2015.

arthur_manuel.jpgUnsettling Canada tells a captivating narrative of activism, identity, and lived experience, tracing Indigenous rights and land claims struggles in this country between the 1960s and 2000s. Manuel and Derrickson engage with the history of political activism as insiders. Hence, the book makes an important contribution on this understudied period through personal insight on everything from the internal debates within the grassroots movement for equity and sovereignty, to how leaders balance the pressures of activism and family life. Not only is the book highly readable and broadly accessible to those in this country, it has an even wider reach in scope as it demonstrates the impact of Indigenous people from Canada like Manuel had on the global stage and in global activists’ strategies. The book is grounded in Indigenous intellectual traditions and perspectives, and carries the timely message about how bringing justice to Indigenous peoples will also create a more sustainable Canada. 

Honourable Mention

Emilie Cameron, Far Off Metal River: Inuit Lands, Settler Stories, and the Making of the Contemporary Arctic. University of British Columbia Press, 2015.

emilie_cameron_photo.jpgCameron examines the story of the 1771 “Bloody Falls massacre” and its influence on Inuit-Settler relations historically, geographically and for contemporary arctic relations. She concludes that while the narrative has served to shape violence and resource extraction in the Coppermine River region for Inuit, it remains a Qablunaat (non-Inuit, non-Indigenous) story. Theoretically rich, notably in linguistic and post-colonial analysis, Cameron presents a framework for Qablunaat to engage with Inuit histories without claiming those stories as their own.  


Best Article Prize

Jason Hall, "Maliseet Cultivation and Climatic Resilience on the W?last?kw/St. John River During the Little Ice Age,"Acadiensis 44, no. 2 (2015): 3-25. 

jason_hall_-_abo.jpgWeaving together documentary sources and oral traditions, Hall’s reconstruction of the history of Maliseet plant cultivation on middle reaches of the W?last?kw/St. John River over the last millennium offers a powerful challenge to received notions about Indigenous economies, the impact of European contact, and the significance of the Little Ice Age in the Northeast. At Meductic, thanks to a favourable microclimate and Maliseet ingenuity, techniques of maize cultivation persisted through climatic changes that doomed the practice elsewhere and prepared the ground, quite literally, for the later establishment of European agriculture there and elsewhere in the region.





Elsie Paul in collaboration with Paige Raibmon and Harmony Johnson. Written as I Remember It: Teachings (??ms ta?aw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2014. 

elsie_paul_-_cropped.jpg Elder Elsie Paul’s life story is presented with the values and practices known as “our teachings.” Incorporating oral traditions and personal experiences, this collaborative work is rich, emotionally vibrant, and wide-ranging in what it covers, including ?a?amin oral traditions, Paul’s experiences with lived colonialism (racism, segregation, wage-labour, residential schools), and her achievements (as the family’s breadwinner, a justice of the peace, first women elected as band councilor). Paul’s attention to the principles of respect and self-care, core tenets of ??ms ta?aw, permeates throughout, as does her humour, resiliency, and sense of spirituality. The authors have crafted many hours of recordings into an engaging narrative that should be viewed as expert historical interpretation by a ?a?amin historian, rather than a collection of cultural knowledge. Paul’s teachings highlight change as an integral part of Sliammon history and are a tool for healing and transformation.



Book Prize

James DaschuckClearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life. Regina: University of Regina, 2013.


Sharply focused on the nineteenth century treaty-making era, Daschuk’s book analyzes the devastating history of disease and famine endured by First Nations on the northwestern Plains. He demystifies the “naturalization of suffering” narrative long upheld by the colonial state. Clearing the Plains instead traces Canadian activities within accelerating global capitalism and environmental exploitation. This important book goes beyond standard postcolonial criticism to illustrate intentional brutalities while also highlighting diverse Aboriginal survival strategies. The work offers documentation of changing ecologies and economic decisions firmly situated within colonial political geographies. Given current concerns regarding Aboriginal health and food sovereignty, Daschuk’s interpretation is especially timely and relevant. 

Honourable Mention

Robin and Jillian Ridington, in collaboration with Elders of Dane-Zaa First NationsWhere Happiness Dwells: A History of the Dane-zaa First Nations. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2013.


Where Happiness Dwells was initiated by Dane-zaa First Nations with the intention to document their “cultural memory.” At its centre are Dane-zaa notions of knowledge, power, and history presented through the rich archive of oral history research conducted by Robin and Jillian Ridington from 1965 to the present. This work is grounded in foundational narratives of the Dane-zaa, in their land-based knowledge and their oral performance conventions. Collaborators present oral traditions that challenge Euro-Canadian temporalities and notions of truth. Because of the tremendous time depth portrayed, when Europeans enter the stage we see them from the Dane-zaa point of view. Their analysis of archival and archaeological renditions of the past illuminates the comparative epistemological project at the heart of this book.  

Article Prize

Isaiah Lorado Wilner, “A Global Potlatch: Identifying the Indigenous Influence on Western Thought,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 37, no. 2 (2013): 87–114.


In a “A Global Potlatch” Wilner reads the global history of ideas from the inside out, arguing that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Kwakwaka’wakw people of British Columbia did more than merely react to the process of colonialism initiated and directed by outsiders. As demonstrated through the life and writing of German-­?American anthropologist Franz Boas, Indigenous intellectuals and leaders such as George Hunt actively sought to communicate to outsiders their vision of a world where people are not separated by difference so much as united by their shared capacity for transformation.

Boas proved receptive and his new understanding of culture as process, now recognized as a major element of Western thought, deserves to be recognized as having its roots in the laws, lifeways, and philosophy of the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples.



Book Prize

Leslie A. Robertson with the Kwagu’? Gixsam Clan
, Standing Up with Ga’axsta’las: Jane Constance Cook and the Politics of Memory, Church, and Custom. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2012.

This book is a revisionist biography of Kwakwaka’wakw leader and activist Jane Constance Cook or Ga’axsta’las (1870-1951), written in response to community and scholarly representations that depicted her only narrowly as an “anti-potlatcher.” The work also offers a rich history of a local community’s negotiation with colonialism by examining community interpretations of smallpox, treaties, trade and the economy, relationships with missionaries, ceremonial practice, and local perspectives of health care, among other things. Standing Up with Ga’axsta’las is an especially innovative work in Canadian Aboriginal History.

Article Prize

Miles Powell, “Divided Waters: Heiltsuk Spatial Management of Herring Fisheries and the Politics of Native Sovereignty" in The Western Historical Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Winter 2012, pp. 463-484).

Powell’s important article links history to contemporary politics and offers dynamic insights from a variety of disciplines. It is a welcome contribution to the growing literature on the utility and successful implementation of traditional practices within aboriginal communities. In brief, Powell demonstrates how the Heiltsuk effectively managed their herring fisheries through complex systems of marine space. It traces this management by looking at how the Canadian state originally deemed these systems primitive and unlawful, but later adopted a quota system that paralleled its aboriginal antecedents. Powell effectively demonstrates how this new spatial order continued to privilege the interests of the colonizers.



Book Prize

Sarah Carter and Patricia McCormack, eds, Recollecting: Lives of Aboriginal Women of the Canadian Northwest and Borderlands (Athabasca University Press, 2011).
Honourable Mention 
Arthur J. Ray. Telling it to the Judge: Taking Native History to Court. (McGill-Queens University Press, 2011).

Best Article Prize 

Keith Carlson
. “Orality about Literacy: The ‘Black and White’ of Salish History,” in Keith Thor Carlson, Kristina Fagan, and Natalia Khanenko-Friesen, eds., Orality and Literacy: Reflections across Disciplines (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011)


Book Prize 

Keith Thor Carlson. The Power of Place, The Problem of Time: Aboriginal Identity and Historical Consciousness in the Cauldron of Colonialism.

In this richly textured and innovative study, Keith Thor Carlson reinterprets Stó:lõ identities from the first smallpox epidemic of the late eighteenth century to the burgeoning west coast political movement in 1906.  By situating identities in temporal and spatial contexts, Carlson explains how the emergence of a supra-tribal political identity was not a product of colonialism but a repudiation of divisive state policies.  This complex recounting of how social structure and transformative events shape historical consciousness and collective identities is a brilliant example of how Aboriginal histories can be written and explored on their own terms.



Book Prize 

Shirleen Smith et Vuntut Cwitchin First Nation. People of the Lakes: Stories of Our Van Tat Gwich'in Elders     

Many people have a mental picture of the Canadian north that juxtaposes beauty with harshness. For the Van Tat Gwich'in, the northern Yukon is home, with a living history passed on from elders to youth. This book consists of oral accounts that the Elders have been recording for 50 years, representing more than 150 years of their history, all meticulously translated from Gwich'in. Yet this is more than a gathering of history; collaborator Shirleen Smith provides context for the stories, whether they are focused on an individual or international politics. Readers interested in Canada's northernmost regions will find much to fascinate them.                                                             


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