Congratulations to Faculty of Education Professor and Associate Vice-President Indigenous initiatives Susan Dion (York University) and Jane Griffith (Ryerson University), on being awarded the prestigious 2021 F.E.L. Priestly Prize for their article “Narratives of Place and Relationship: Bev Sellar’s Memoir They Called Me Number One”. The award was presented by the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE).
The F.E.L. Priestley Prize recognizes and acknowledges the best essay published in ACCUTE’s scholarly journal, English Studies in Canada, over the past year. The 2021 F.E.L. Priestley Prize Committee was constituted by Shama Rangwala (York University), Heidi Tiedemann Darroch (Camosun College), and committee chair Hannah McGregor (Simon Fraser University). The committee agreed that “Narratives of Place and Relationship: Bev Sellars’s Memoir They Called Me Number One,” is notable for how it diverges from traditional academic essays, using Sellars’s memoir as a starting point to develop a broader understanding of place and relationality building upon Indigenous scholarship.
The committee made the following comments about the article:
Dr. Dion and Dr. Griffith’s article is notable for how it diverges from traditional academic essays, using Sellars’s memoir as a starting point to develop a broader understanding of place and relationality building upon Indigenous scholarship. In this illuminating and engaging work, Dr. Dion and Dr. Griffith propose using a framework of recuperation (rather than reconciliation or resistance) to read the Secwepemc author’s autobiography. They argue persuasively that “They Called Me Number One offers the potential to learn from Indigenous knowledge acquired through place and story to act on obligations to live in relationship premised on reciprocity, protection, and care.” They go on to demonstrate how these reciprocal relationships are interrupted by institutions including residential schools as well as hospitals and jails, part of a systematic and deliberate “disruption of Indigenous ways of being in relationship with the land.” They conclude by looking at Sellars’s interest in strategies of recuperating land and Indigenous ways of knowing, connecting her memoir to her contemporary organizing: “Outside of her memoir, Sellars is literally taking back land and insisting on relationship.”
In addition to offering a significant new reading of Sellars’s memoir, this article is also methodologically sophisticated; its nuanced and well-researched analysis is grounded in the writing of Indigenous scholars, including Secwepemc authors Marianne Ignace and Ronald E. Ignace, in order to foster a reading of Sellars’s work that is attentive to the specificity of place, nation, and identity. Drawing on extensive scholarship and rich historical context, the article connects textuality in life-writing to relationality and land in a compelling way, modeling how the study of literary texts benefits from deep engagement with Indigenous scholarship and philosophy.
We would also like to emphasize the article’s structural innovation; it moves away from conventions of distanced critique by explicitly acknowledging the subjectivities of the authors, building the practices of collective authorship into its politics from the first page. A model of clarity and accessibility, this article offers a broad range of readers, without specialized knowledge of the field of Indigenous literary studies, a welcome introduction to Sellars’s work, and its aesthetic, social, and political significance. We believe that this article will be particularly useful for teachers interested in introducing Sellars’s memoir into their classrooms, and hope that it will be read, taught, and cited widely.
Hannah McGregor (Simon Fraser University), Shama Rangwala (York University), and Heidi Tiedemann Darroch (Camosun College)
Click here to read the article through the York University Library system.