For the first time, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences selected a book co-authored by a University of Northern British Columbia scholar for its most prestigious book prize.
Anthropology Professor Dr. Michel Bouchard is one of the recipients of the Prix du Canada en sciences humaines et sociales, for his book Les Bois-Brûlés de l’Outaouais. The prize is given to the best French-language book in the humanities and social sciences published in Canada each year.
“It was quite a shock when I first received the letter notifying us that we had won the award,” Bouchard says. “It’s an incredible honour, given the distinguished academics who have received this prize in the past.”
Bouchard shares the award with his co-authors Dr. Sébastien Malette, an Associate Professor in the Department of Law and Legal Studies at Carleton University, and independent researcher Guillaume Marcotte.
The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences also awards the Canada Prize in the Humanities and Social Sciences to the best English-language book. The winning books make an exceptional contribution to scholarship, are engagingly written, and enrich the social, cultural and intellectual life of Canada. Each award comes with a $10,000 prize.
“We are grateful to the jury as we know this book does challenge what was assumed to be true,” Bouchard says. “As we wrote, rather than reducing reality to a Manichean world view that opposes identities such as white versus Indian, or white versus Métis, or lastly Québécois versus Métis, we carefully analyzed a cultural and historical landscape in which identities are ever shifting and evolving as living entities, in which individuals and communities can call upon elements of their ethnic and symbolic heritage to define and redefine themselves.”
To be eligible for the award, the books must first receive funding through the Awards to Scholarly Publications Program (ASPP). The competitive program, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and administered by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, supports up to the publication of up to 180 books each year.
“The authors’ analysis of the documentary sources was painstaking,” the jurors wrote in a citation. “Their conceptual framework is carefully defined, and each stage is based on a transparent methodology.
“The challenge was a sizable one: reconstructing the full presence of a historical community in the Maniwaki area whose invisible existence could only be traced by cross-referencing some often stigmatizing statements, reports from a variety of sources, correspondence, frequently exclusionary policies, spoken memories and genealogical research. An exemplary and meticulous work.”
Bouchard and his co-authors were successful in accessing ASPP funding twice on this project. First for the award-winning French version and more recently for the English version Bois-Brûlés: The Untold Story of the Métis of Western Québec released this spring.
“The English book went through another editorial board and another peer review process,” Bouchard explains. “We incorporated the feedback we received and strengthened and tightened our argument.”
Bouchard credits the success of the books to the co-authors’ teamwork. Bouchard says Malette brings an exceptional theoretical background to the group and Marcotte is an outstanding archival researcher. Bouchard used his expertise to provide context, perspective and interpretation of archival material.
“Together we sought to ensure a thorough research that was true to the historical and archival record,” continues Bouchard. “We are quite grateful to the community that entrusted us with this task of compiling this history of Maniwaki and western Québec.”
The books make the argument that a historical Métis community exists in the Outaouais region of western Québec and points to cultural similitudes and ancestral linkages to established Métis communities in western Canada.
“We wanted to research an aspect of Canadian history that has been overlooked,” Bouchard says. “We didn’t have a set agenda when we began our research, we wanted to see what story the archival record would tell us about how people were identified in the 19th century.”
The findings of the book have sparked debate about the nature of identity and who can claim Indigenous ancestry. Bouchard is hopeful the Prix du Canada will encourage more people to read the book and engage in the conversation.
“We want this book to further the discussion about what it means to be Métis in 2020,” he says.