Uncovering untold stories: History MA student named a finalist in SSHRC Storytellers Challenge

- April 30, 2024

Dalhousie student Judith Meyrick drew upon her own life experiences in shaping her research interests. Having immigrated to Canada more than three decades ago from New Zealand, she was struck by the stark contrast in the visibility of Indigenous culture between her homeland and Canada, where much is still hidden.

"In New Zealand, Māori language, music, and art is very visible, starting at the airport," she says. "I was perplexed that in Canada it was not so visible."

This revelation served as the catalyst for her deep dive into the historical complexities of Indigenous art and culture.

Judith's dedication to her research interest earned her a spot as one of the 25 finalists for the 2024 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s (SSHRC) Storytellers Challenge — a national competition that invites postsecondary students in Canada to showcase how social sciences and humanities research is positively impacting the lives and future of Canadians.

Judith secured placement as a finalist with a 300-word written submission, A Dubious Honour. Applicants to the competition must choose between a written submission or a three-minute video to tell their stories.

Opening the archives

Judith graduated from Dal last spring with a Bachelor of Arts Honours in History and minors in Indigenous Studies and Creative Writing and is now pursuing a Master of Arts in History. Having previously done some studies in accounting, she returned to university as a mature student to complete her degrees in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) and the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS).

“I am taking history this time because it is my passion, which was not the case first time around,” she says, adding that this has allowed her to stay focussed on her interests. 

While completing her BA, Judith found her niche in archival research under the guidance of Drs. Sara Spike and Lisa Binkley in the history department. Together, they helped Judith hone the skills to uncover untold stories buried within the Canadian historical archives. 

Dr. Binkley explains that Judith's graduate thesis emerged from an archival search exercise in one of her undergraduate classes where she dug into the often-restricted RG-10 files that are the focus on Indian Affairs policies such as the Residential Schools. 

“There she located files concerning the expropriation of Mi'kmaw people from the King's Road Settlement, located on the outskirts of Sydney [in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia],” says Dr. Binkley, who serves as Judith's MA supervisor. 

“In her investigation, she discovered the nasty behind-the-scenes local and federal politics that allowed the Government of Canada to relocate the community to present-day Membertou, where they no longer had ease of access by water route to Sydney, where many of the community members worked. This coincided with a similar government initiative that was happening in British Columbia at the time.” 

The graduate work builds on her undergraduate thesis.

Histories that need examining

Judith’s journey in this storytelling was not without its own challenges, noting one recent interaction when someone made a comment to her to be careful about telling an Indigenous story.

“The question asked was ‘Is this your story to tell?’ and my answer is 'Yes, it certainly is,'” she explains. “My work is telling a colonial story that had a major impact on an Indigenous community, and these are histories that need to be examined. I think it is important that we, as settler colonials, look at the oppression and devastation caused by the racism and greed of our ancestors. I am attempting to examine the colonial history of how and why things happened as they did.”

Dr. Binkley highlighted the importance of Judith's discovery of this information, adding that she [Judith] is planning a trip to Membertou this spring to introduce herself to the community and share her findings with them. 

“Her work is rooted in a decolonial approach, and she has worked very hard to communicate these values, which she has carried with her from her homeland of Aotearoa/New Zealand. It really is remarkable what is hidden in the files and wonderful that Judith has been able to bring this hidden history to the surface," says Dr. Binkley, saying she was thrilled to hear of Judith's recognition by SSHRC.

FGS Dean Dr. Marty Leonard shares Dr. Binkley’s excitement.

“I am delighted and proud that Judith is one of the top 25 finalists for this prestigious prize,” she says. “The Storytellers competition is a wonderful opportunity for Canadians to learn about Judith’s important research.” 

Dr. Karen Foster, associate dean research in FASS, adds that Judith’s work is a great example of what many researchers in FASS excel at.

“It tells a compelling story that reaches into the past, finds new information, and tells us something about the present,” says Dr. Foster. “It’s connected to our local context in Nova Scotia and goes beyond the surface-level narratives about this place to reveal a deeper history of power struggle and inequality.”

A future fuelled by stories

Judith and the other finalists receive $3,000 and will deliver presentations to a live audience in Saskatoon on May 6 during the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC) conference. The top five chosen by a panel win an additional $1,000.

For Judith, the dissemination of knowledge is not merely an academic exercise but a moral imperative. By shining a light on the injustices of the past, she hopes to pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable future.

On her aspirations for the future, Judith says after graduating, she will return to writing. 

“My interest is in creative non-fiction and perhaps children’s writing,” she says. “History can figure easily within these two genres.”


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