The Indigenous History Group, a committee affiliated with the Canadian Historical Association, is pleased to offer a prize for the best book in aboriginal history.
Sarah Nickel. Assembling Unity: Indigenous Politics, Gender, and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2019).
By contrasting the role played by band leaders, women and the militant base involved in the ideological development of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), Sarah Nickel makes an important contribution to our understanding of contemporary Indigenous leadership, particularly its gendered dimension. Based on solid research in the archives, combined with interviews with former leaders, Nickel offers a sophisticated analysis of the issues related to the search for consensus within the Indigenous political movement. Herself a member of the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation, Nickel offers us a clear, concise and solidly argued work, which constitutes a model for future research on the political dynamics at work not only among First Nations, but in Canadian society at large.
Mary Jane Logan McCallum & Adele Perry, Structures of Indifference: An Indigenous Life and Death in a Canadian City
Structures of Indifference situates the life and death of Brian Sinclair within the complicated settler colonial histories of the geographic area that came to be known as Manitoba. Sinclair was an Anishinaabe man who died after waiting 34 hours unseen and untreated in a hospital emergency room in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In the media coverage that followed and the subsequent inquest, how Sinclair lived his life went largely unexplored and instead racist stereotypes about Indigenous people prevailed. Structures of Indifference serves as a corrective to the erasure of Sinclair and the denial of the violent roles played by racism and settler colonialism in Canada’s so-called universal health care system. Structures of Indifference is an exemplar for all historians. It illustrates the importance of writing collaboratively, speaking back to settler colonialism, and making our work accessible. Mary Jane McCallum and Adele Perry’s monograph serves as an exceptional standard of rigorous research and offers important analytical contributions to the field.
Allan Downey, The Creator’s Game: Lacrosse, Identity, and Indigenous Nationhood
In The Creator's Game, Allan Downey examines the history of colonialism in Canada, from an Indigenous perspective, through the evolution of an Indigenous sport: lacrosse. The unique perspective of the author, a member of the Dakelh Carrier First Nation and a lacrosse player, offers new insight into the complex relationships between identity and colonization. The Creator’s Game is an excellent example of the persistence and vitality of Indigenous communities and cultures. It offers a remarkable combination of rigorous research with an original and innovative narrative structure, illustrating the possibilities of a decolonizing approach to Indigenous history.
With 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.
Marianne Ignace & Ronald E. Ignace, Secwépemc People, Land, and Laws: Yerí7 re Stsq'ey's-kucw. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017.
Marianne 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.
Maureen K. Lux, Separate Beds: A History of Indian Hospitals in Canada, 1920s-1980s. Toronto: UTP, 2016.
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.
Jean Barman, Abenaki Daring: The Life and Writings of Noel Annance, 1792-1869. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016.
Brian D. McInnes, Sounding Thunder: The Stories of Francis Pegahmagabow. Winnipeg: UMP, 2016.
Helen Raptis with members of the Tsimshian Nation, What We Learned: Two Generations Reflect on Tsimishian Education and the Day Schools. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2016.
Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald M. Derrickson, Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call. Between the Lines, 2015.
Unsettling 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.
Emilie Cameron, Far Off Metal River: Inuit Lands, Settler Stories, and the Making of the Contemporary Arctic. University of British Columbia Press, 2015.
Cameron 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.
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.
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.
James Daschuck, Clearing 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.
Robin and Jillian Ridington, in collaboration with Elders of Dane-Zaa First Nations, Where 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.
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.
Sarah Carter and Patricia McCormack, eds, Recollecting: Lives of Aboriginal Women of the Canadian Northwest and Borderlands (Athabasca University Press, 2011).
Arthur J. Ray. Telling it to the Judge: Taking Native History to Court. (McGill-Queens University Press, 2011).
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.
Shirleen Smith & Vuntut Cwitchin First Nation. People of the Lakes: Stories of Our Van Tat Gwich'in Elders.
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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