Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Olive actually retires. (Olive Dickason 1920-2011 RIP)

The historian Olive Dickason, who died in Ottawa the other day at ninety-one, was a newspaper journalist until she was fifty. She then began thinking of her ancestry (anglophone father,Métis mother, raised in northern Manitoba).  She thereupon earned a doctorate in aboriginal history and became both a leading historian of Canadian First Nations and an inspiration to Métis and First Nations scholars.  (How many historians get an obituary tribute from the Minister of Indian Affairs?)

Then she also became an inspiration to professors who did not want to retire. Having just got up to speed with a doctorate (University of Ottawa, 1977, age 57) and an academic job, she hit sixty-five and was told she would have to retire.  She did not want to, and Dickason v. University of Alberta, her Supreme Court of Canada case against mandatory retirement, became one of the leading cases in the field.

Her survey Canada's First Nations (now in a fourth edition, with David McNab) remains a standard text.  I remember being impressed, when it first appeared, by her observation in it that the foundation of the Hudson Bay Company should probably be credited to the Cree of northern Ontario more than to Charles II, or even Radisson and de Groseilliers.  It was the Cree, after all, who had both knew the geography and had the urgent desire for a link to European traders that avoided the then-embattled territories along the Ottawa River route to Montreal. Seems entirely plausible when you think of it.  But previously no one had.
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