First Nations

At this point in her life, highly honoured Ottawa-based Dr. Olive Dickason continues to write ground-breaking material that gives back to First Nations people the most important thing they lost: their own history. Her own life has become a metaphor for the bridge she has created between First Nations communities and Canada.

Dickason is a Métis, born of French, English and First Nations ancestry. Her parents went broke in the Thirties and wound up living off the land in Northern Manitoba. To fend off starvation, Olive learned to fish, hunt and gather from her Métis mother. Learning was another form of hunger in Olive's life. She learned Greek, Latin and philosophy from a Scottish immigrant who moved into the bush nearby.

She became a protege of Fr. Athol Murray, founder of Notre Dame College in Wilcox, SK.. A Bachelor of Arts degree in hand, she pursued a career in journalism, winding up as the women's editor of The Globe and Mail.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Denis Wall

At 50, her children grown, (divorced, she had raised them on her own), she returned to her love of academic life, winding up at University of Ottawa where she began work toward her Masters and Doctoral degrees. She started out with an interest in French colonial history. She soon discovered her subject -- European-Amerindian contact history. It was the very stuff of her own genetic heritage.

There had never been a doctoral dissertation based on the premise of First Nations history. There was no specialist in Canada who could direct and adjudicate such a thesis. Olive cleared her way through it all, gathering aboriginal peoples' oral histories as well as unearthing volumes of texts in the archives of the erstwhile European colonizers, learning to read French and Spanish in the process. She published breakthrough books that have become curriculum texts across the country.

Her book The Myth of the Savage (1984) looked at the history of early contact between the French and the aboriginal peoples of North and South America. Canada's First Nations (1992) rounded up the entire history pre-and post-contact of Canadian First Nations peoples.

Dickason believes that Canadians knowing and claiming this history will constitute a major enrichment of the country's national identity. Canada is much older than the 136 years since Confederation and all Canadians share both the tragic and beneficial results of a cross cultural encounter which began 500 years ago and continues to evolve today.

Dickason has been honoured many times: the Order of Canada, numerous honorary doctorates, the First Nations Lifetime Achievement Award, Métis woman of the Year Award, the Sir John A. Macdonald History Prize. She has an award named after her: Dr. Olive Dickason Achiever of the Year (University of Calgary Native Studies). She is a sought-after speaker and consultant. Industry Canada invited her to explain the current situation of First Nations Canadians to its community of business leaders. The CBC, in its recent Canadian history project Canada: A People History broadcast in the Fall of 2000, hired her as aboriginal peoples history consultant to advise on the First Nations point of view in Canadian colonial history.
Dickason is now in her 80s and working on a new book. She is a significant figure in Canadian history; a national treasure whose accomplishments and contribution will be honoured and disseminated in this timely documentary.

When Olive Dickason announced 30 years ago that she wanted to take up the study of Aboriginal history, her professors dismissed the very notion. In their view, there was no such thing as Aboriginal history.

She proved them wrong and went on to educate all Canadians about their country's true history. Dickason's pioneering research has shattered the myth that Canadian history begins with the arrival of the European explorers, and has fostered the recognition of indigenous peoples as this country's founding civilization.

Before Dickason, there had never been a Canadian doctoral dissertation based on the premise of First Nations history. There was no specialist in Canada who could direct and adjudicate such a thesis. Olive cleared her way through it all, discovering ancient First Nations oral histories as well as unearthing volumes of texts in the archives of the erstwhile European colonizers, learning to read French and Spanish in the process. She published breakthrough books (The Myth of the Savage {1984} and Canada's First Nations {1992}) that have become Canadian best-sellers.

Olive Dickason's First Nations, the one-hour television biography, examines Olive's life story and the enormous impact she has had on the understanding of both Canadian and First Nations history. Starting from her humble beginnings growing up in Northern Manitoba, we trace her journey to her position today as one of Canada's preeminent historians.

Olive Dickason is still hard at work helping First Nations and non First Nations communities better understand and appreciate the rich history that lies at the root of the Canadian story.








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