Olive Dickason

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Olive Patricia Dickason
Born (1920-03-06)March 6, 1920
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Died March 12, 2011(2011-03-12) (aged 91)
Citizenship Canadian
Nationality Canadian
Fields Journalism
Aboriginal History
Institutions Winnipeg Free Press
Montreal Gazette
Globe and Mail
University of Alberta
Alma mater University of Ottawa
Academic advisors Cornelius Jaenen
Known for First People's and women's issues
Influences Athol Murray
Cornelius Jaenen
Notable awards Order of Canada–1996
Aboriginal Achievement Award–1997

Olive Patricia Dickason (March 6, 1920 – March 12, 2011)[1] was a Canadian historian. She was a key figure in the study of Aboriginal History in Canada's academic world.

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, her family moved to the Interlake region after losing everything they owned during the Great Depression. Aged 12, she, her sister Alice, and her mother Phoebe went trapping and fishing to provide food for the family. “Living in the bush as I did during my adolescent years, I very soon learned that survival depended upon assessing each situation as it arose, which calls for common sense and realism,” said Olive. “You neither give up nor play games.” Encouraged by mentor, Father Athol Murray, she decided to finish high school in Saskatchewan, prior to pursuing post-secondary education. She completed a BA in French and Philosophy at Notre Dame College, an affiliate of the University of Ottawa.

She first became aware of her Métis ancestry as a young adult upon meeting some Métis relatives in Regina. She began a 24-year career in journalism at the Regina Leader-Post and subsequently, worked as a writer and editor at the Winnipeg Free Press, the Montreal Gazette, and the Globe and Mail. She promoted coverage of First Nations and women's issues.

In 1970, aged 50, she entered the graduate program at the University of Ottawa. She had to struggle with faculty preconceptions regarding Aboriginal History – including arguments that it did not exist – before finally finding a professor (Cornelius Jaenen) to act as her academic advisor. "I was lucky... [a] Belgian fellow, who didn't know much about Native people, but knew a lot about discrimination, took up my cause, and the university eventually admitted me." She completed her master's degree at the University of Ottawa two years later, and her PhD in 1977. Her doctoral thesis, entitled The Myth of the Savage, was eventually published as were Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from the Earliest Times and The Native Imprint: The Contribution of First Peoples to Canada's Character -- Volume 1: to 1815 (1995), which she edited. In addition she also wrote Indian Arts in Canada, which won three awards for conception and design and coauthored The Law of Nations and the New World.

Dickason taught at the University of Alberta from 1976 to 1992. She retired from this professorship when she was 72, after fighting the mandatory retirement at age 65. Dickason filed suit against the University of Alberta, claiming its mandatory retirement policy was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.[2] Dickason won her case in the lower courts, but lost in a 5-4 split at the Supreme Court of Canada.[3] Her time as a professor and her significant contributions to the literature of history in Canada have influenced a whole generation of scholars, and will continue to be the basis for much historical work done in the future.

Olive was awarded the Order of Canada in 1996,[4] and was the recipient of the Aboriginal Achievement Award, now the Indspire Awards, in 1997. She has also been the recipient of numerous honorary doctorates throughout the years.


Dickason had three daughters: Anne, Clare and Roberta.


Olive Dickason died on March 12, 2011, one week after her 91st birthday.

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ "Obituary - Olive Patricia Dickason". Globe and Mail. March 14, 2011. Retrieved May 9, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Professor Contesting Retirement Order". The Leader-Post. August 31, 1985. Retrieved 25 December 2010. 
  3. ^ Eric Guimond; Valaskakis, Gail Guthrie; Stout, Madeleine Dion (2009). Restoring the balance: First Nations women, community, and culture. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press. ISBN 0-88755-709-0. 
  4. ^ "Olive Patricia Dickason, C.M., Ph.D., D.Litt.". The Governor General of Canada. Retrieved 25 December 2010. 

External links[edit]