Cheryl Suzack, a leading scholar of Indigenous literature, studies and decolonization, has been named the 2023 winner of the prestigious Ludwik & Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize, in the Influential Leader category.
Established in 1995, the Ludwik & Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize is one of the Division of People Strategy, Equity & Culture’s Pinnacle Awards that recognizes exceptional contributions by administrative staff, faculty and librarians. It’s part of the University’s broader Awards of Excellence Program which is bestowed annually on faculty, staff and students by the U of T Alumni Association.
Suzack, a member of the Batchewana First Nation, is an associate professor with the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Department of English, cross-appointed to the Centre for Indigenous Studies.
“I’m thrilled to be the recipient of the Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize for my research on Indigenous women’s writing as it advances Indigenous peoples’ human rights,” she says.
Her research and teaching explore how Indigenous women’s writing contributes to Indigenous peoples’ cultural empowerment. She analyzes how Indigenous stories participate in transnational and interdisciplinary approaches to Indigenous law and literature; comparative Indigenous literary studies; transnational Indigenous feminisms; and studies of settler colonialism, decolonization and Indigenous resurgence.
This work is captured in her 2017 book, Indigenous Women’s Writing and the Cultural Study of Law, where she explores how Indigenous women’s writing from Canada and the United States addresses case law concerning tribal membership, intergenerational residential school experiences and land claims.
The award means a great deal to me in bringing attention to the voices and storytelling traditions of Indigenous peoples. This inspires me and my commitment that research can have an impact and make a difference.
“Indigenous women’s stories demonstrate their commitment and faith that Indigenous stories can bring about the social change necessary to overcome experiences of loss, displacement, indifference and isolation,” says Suzack.
“Their stories provide a connective thread that links together communities in Canada and the United States with Indigenous peoples’ traditional practices redirecting attention to the tribal-activist storytelling legacies that emerged in tandem with settler colonialism, colonization, and Indigenous dispossession.”
Building on the findings in her book, her current book project analyzes U.S. Justice Thurgood Marshall’s papers in the context of Indian civil rights claims from the 1960s.
This project uses a law and humanities lens to construct an archivally based “tribalography” by re-constructing the legal arguments that Indigenous peoples used to transform their social and political circumstances during the late 19th and early 20th century. Through this work, she hopes to tell the story of the relationship between law and social power from the perspective of tribal participants.
“It focuses on tribal-activist writers who responded to legal dispossession through literature to show how the Marshall Court manifested the complexity of the tribal voice by drawing from civil rights, slave law and literary sources,” says Suzack.
“Through aligning the voices of Native writers that preceded the self-determination era, it shows how tribes engaged with intersecting, competing, and conflicting legal paths expressing both tribal and human rights.”
Through close readings of texts by Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, Francis LaFlesche, Susette LaFlesche, Charles Eastman, Luther Standing Bear, Linda Hogan, and Louise Erdrich, Suzack intends to demonstrate literature’s capacity to confront tribal removal and allotment and to recast legal dispossession by restoring the legal frameworks associated with intra-tribal storytelling traditions.
The Pinnacle Awards selection committee commended Suzack for her “exceptional achievements in research, teaching, and social justice advocacy with a particular focus on the writings of Indigenous women authors,” and for her “invaluable research contributions to Indigenous law and humanities scholarship.”
Suzack has held visiting fellowships at Georgetown University, Smith College and McGill University, and has served as a research collaborator with the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa, and U of T’s Jackman Humanities Institute.
Formerly a member of Trinity College’s Task Force on Anti-Black Racism and Inclusion, she has served as a member of Trinity College’s Board of Trustees; as an executive committee member with the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities; and as a member of the Modern Language Association’s Committee on the Literature of Peoples of Color in the United States and Canada.
She is also a member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.
“The award means a great deal to me in bringing attention to the voices and storytelling traditions of Indigenous peoples,” says Suzack. “This inspires me and my commitment that research can have an impact and make a difference.”