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Joan Sangster

The Hilda Neatby Prize English Article


Joan Sangster, Criminalizing the Colonized: Ontario Native Women Confront the Criminal Justice System, 1920-1960. Canadian Historical Review 80.1 (March 1999), 32-60.

In a richly descriptive account of her subject, Sangster argues that three crucial, interconnected factors contributed to the overincarceration of Native women: “The material and social dislocation precipitated by colonialism, the gender and race paternalism of court and penal personnel, and the related cultural gap between Native and Euro-Canadian value systems, articulating very different notions of crime and punishment.” Her use of Mercer Reformatory case files allows her vividly to convey Native women’s painful losses and the bitter injustices they suffered, while her extensive reading in anthropological, criminological, and psychological literature, old and new, allows her to explain the logic of both the Euro-Canadian justice system and Native Canadians’ responses to it. Confirming the view that cultural difference underpinned the harms she describes, Sangster nonetheless avoids reductively dichotomizing “Native” and “Euro-Canadian” perspectives. With its scholarly and sensitive treatment of an important topic, this article makes a major contribution to Canadian women’s history.

Honourable Mention:
Elizabeth Smyth, Sandra Acker, Paula Bourne and Alison Prentice, eds., Challenging Professions: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Women’s Professional Work. University of Toronto Press, 1999.
This collection is remarkable for the varied picture it offers of women in middle-class Canadian life in the twentieth century. Represented are many of the “women’s” professions: nurses, nutritionists, social workers, nuns, and elementary school teachers. But also making an appearance are women in normatively masculine occupations, such as physicists, foresters, pharmacists, professors, accountants, preachers, and physicians. There is even an essay on a professional woman in the arts, composer Jean Coulthard. The lucid and scholarly introduction explains the important historical and political themes that arise when we study women professionals. With its rich array of stories and analysis, the anthology makes a convincing case that to study women in the professions is to learn about many of the ways in which gender and power were interconnected in the twentieth century.