History prof’s book a double winner
York history Professor William C. Wicken is the winner of this year’s Sir John A. Macdonald Prize for the best scholarly book in Canadian history and a 2013 Clio Prize winner, both by the Canadian Historical Association.
The book, The Colonization of Mi’kmaw Memory and History, 1794-1928: The King v. Gabriel Sylliboy (University of Toronto Press, 2012), will also be awarded with a Governor General’s Award for Scholarly Achievement at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in November along with a $5,000 award sponsored by Manulife.
The Sir John A. Macdonald Prize jury called it a “finely crafted and tightly argued study of memory and meaning, written in a style that is spare and clean, makes imaginative use of a wide range of existing sources to answer innovative epistemological questions fundamental to the historical project”.
The Colonization of Mi’kmaw Memory and History, 1794-1928 starts in 1928 with the court case of Gabriel Sylliboy. The jury went on to say that it “uncovers how successive generations of Mi’kmaq remembered a treaty signed in the 18th century. Such questions about the relationship between memory and aboriginal rights, makes The Colonization of Mi’kmaw Memory and History a book that advances a challenging argument about an important subject in Canadian history.”
The Sylliboy case was part of a broader debate within Canada about Aboriginal peoples’ legal status within Confederation. In using the 1752 treaty to try and establish a legal identity separate from that of other Nova Scotians, Mi’kmaw leaders contested federal and provincial attempts to force their assimilation into Anglo-Canadian society.
Sylliboy, the Grand Chief of the Mi’kmaw of Atlantic Canada, was charged in 1927 with trapping muskrats out of season. At appeal in July 1928, he and five other men recalled conversations with parents, grandparents and community members to explain how they understood a treaty their people had signed with the British in 1752.
Wicken, a professor in York Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, traces Mi’kmaw memories of the treaty, arguing that as colonization altered Mi’kmaw society, community interpretations of the treaty changed as well.
For more information, visit the Canadian Historical Association website.