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Geography Prof Wins Canadian Book Award

June 10, 2019

Assistant Professor of Geography Tyler McCreary has won the British Columbia Lieutenant-Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing for his book "Shared Histories: Witsuwit’en-Settler Relations in Smithers, British Columbia, 1913-1973."


McCreary, who grew up in Smithers, wrote about the history of the Witsuwit’en, a First Nations people who live in the Central Interior of British Columbia, one of the Canadian province's three main regions. The book, said Witsuwit’en elder Violet Gellenbeck, accurately captured the legacy of racism her people have endured.

According to an article about the award in the region's newspaper The Interior News, "The early Wit’suwet’en residents of Smithers attempted to integrate into settler society by getting involved in community events, buying property, building homes and paying taxes. Nevertheless, the municipality denied Indigenous families basic services such as waste collection and the right for their children to go to school. Many of those children were taken away from their families and sent to the Catholic Lejac Indian Residential School near Fraser Lake, which according to the book was notorious for neglect and abuse of Indigenous children."

“While Canadian Indian policy in the early twentieth century promoted the ideal of integration, Indigenous people who embraced this vision were consistently betrayed by settler racism and a refusal to treat them as equals,” McCreary writes in the book. “Discrimination in property markets and municipal governance made finding and keeping a place in town a constant struggle for Witsuwit’en [sic] families.”

McCreary received the award at the B.C. Historical Federation gala on Vancouver Island, June 8.

“I hope this will help bring a broader audience to the book and for more people to be able to read and hear the stories of the Wet’suwet’en families in Smithers, the experiences they faced, the endurance and persistence of those families trying to make a space for themselves in town and begin to relate those experiences to other experiences of Indigenous folks in communities across British Columbia and, indeed, across Canada," he told the newspaper.

The award carries a cash prize of $2,500.

McCreary joined the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy faculty in 2016. His research examines how Indigenous-settler relations configure the politics of land, labour and community life. He has analyzed themes such as how environmental governance processes address Indigenous relationships to the land, how Indigenous peoples interact with resource sector labour markets and how processes of urban and regional governance impact Indigenous families living in towns and cities.