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)
Nationality Canadian
Citizenship Canadian
Alma mater University of Ottawa
Known for First People's and women's issues
Awards Order of Canada–1996
Aboriginal Achievement Award–1997
Scientific career
Fields Journalism
Aboriginal History
Institutions Winnipeg Free Press
Montreal Gazette
Globe and Mail
University of Alberta
Academic advisors Cornelius Jaenen
Influences Athol Murray
Cornelius Jaenen

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

Personal life[edit]

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.

Dickason had three daughters: Anne, Clare and Roberta. Olive Dickason died on March 12, 2011, one week after her 91st birthday.


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 a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission against the University of Alberta, claiming its mandatory retirement policy was a violation of the Alberta Individual's Rights Protections Act.[2][3] Dickason won her case in the human rights board of inquiry and the Alberta Queen's Bench, but lost in the Alberta Court of Appeal and then in the Supreme Court of Canada, the latter by a 4-3 split among the judges.[2][4] 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,[5] 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, Olive Patricia; Haas, Rudi (1972). Indian arts in Canada. Ottawa: Arts and Crafts Development Section, Indian-Eskimo Economic Development Branch, Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. 
  • Dickason, Olive Patricia (1980). "The concept of L'homme sauvage". In Halpin, Marjorie M.; Ames, Michael M. Manlike monsters on trial : early records and modern evidence. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. ISBN 9780774801195. 
  • Dickason, Olive Patricia (1984). The myth of the savage : and the beginnings of French colonialism in the Americas. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press. ISBN 9780888640369. 
  • Dickason, Olive Patricia (1991). ""For every plant there is a use" : the botanical world of Mexica and Iroquoians". In Abel, Kerry M; Friesen, Jean. Aboriginal resource use in Canada : historical and legal aspects. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press. ISBN 9780887553097. 
  • Olive Patricia Dickason (1992). Canada's First Nations:A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 9780195416527. 
  • Dickason, Olive Patricia (1992). "A historical reconstruction for the northwestern plains". In Francis, R D; Palmer, Howard. The Prairie West : historical readings. Edmonton, Alta.: Pia Pica Press. ISBN 9780888642271. 
  • Dickason, Olive Patricia; Green, Leslie Claude (1993). The law of nations and the New World. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press. ISBN 9780888642578. 
  • Dickason, Olive Patricia (1995). The Native imprint : the contribution of First Peoples to Canada's character, volume 1 : to 1815. Athabasca, Alta.: Athabasca University Educational Enterprises. ISBN 9780919737136. 
  • Dickason, Olive (1996). "Europeans and a New World cosmography in the 1500s". In Brown, Jennifer S.H. Reading beyond words : contexts for native history. Orchard Park, N.Y.: Broadview Press. ISBN 9781551110707. 
  • Dickason, Olive Patricia (1998). "Art and Amerindian worldviews". In McNab, David. Earth, water, air and fire : studies in Canadian ethnohistory. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ISBN 9780889202979. 
  • Dickason, Olive Patricia (1999). "Iron Men, True Men, and the Art of Treaty-Making". In Joseph, Alun E.; Knight, David B. Restructuring societies : insights from the social sciences. Ottawa, Ont.: Carleton University Press. 
  • Dickason, Olive Patricia (2000). "Old world law and new world political realities". In Laiberte, Ron F. Expressions in Canadian native studies. Saskatoon: University Extension Press. ISBN 9780888804112. 
  • Dickason, Olive Patricia (2001). "From "one nation" in the Northeast to "new nation" in the Northwest : a look at the emergence of the métis". In Peterson, Jacqueline; Brown, Jennifer S H. The new peoples : being and becoming métis in North America. St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society Press. ISBN 9780873514088. 
  • Dickason, Olive Patricia (2001). "The sixteenth-century French vision of empire: the other side of self-determination". In Warkentin, Germaine; Podruchny, Carolyn. Decentring the Renaissance : Canada and Europe in multidisciplinary perspective, 1500-1700. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9781442673762. 
  • Dickson, Olive P. (2002). "Metis". In Magocsi, Paul R. Aboriginal peoples of Canada : a short introduction. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9780802036308. 
  • Dickason, Olive Patricia (2005). "The many faces of Canada's history as it relates to aboriginal people". In McNab, David; Lischke, Ute. Walking a tightrope : aboriginal people and their representations. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ISBN 9781417599660. 
  • Dickason, Olive Patricia (2008). "Natives and newcomers in Early "Canada". Canada when Europeans arrives". In Walker, Barrington. The history of immigration and racism in Canada : essential readings. Toronto: Canadian Scholars' Press. ISBN 9781551303406. 
  • Dickason, Olive Patricia; Newbigging, William (2010). A concise history of Canada's First Nations. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195432428. 
  • Dickason, Olive Patricia; Long, David Alan (2016). Visions of the heart : issues involving Aboriginal peoples in Canada (Fourth ed.). Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: OUP Canada. ISBN 9780199014774. 


  1. ^ "Obituary - Olive Patricia Dickason". Globe and Mail. March 14, 2011. Retrieved May 9, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Dickason v. University of Alberta, [1992] 2 SCR 1103.
  3. ^ "Professor Contesting Retirement Order". The Leader-Post. August 31, 1985. Retrieved 25 December 2010. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ "Olive Patricia Dickason, C.M., Ph.D., D.Litt." The Governor General of Canada. Retrieved 25 December 2010. 

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