Sylvia McAdam (Saysewahum)

2016 Winner of the Margolese Prize

Portrait of Sylvia McAdam (Saysewahum)

Photo courtesy of Sylvia McAdam

Sylvia McAdam (Saysewahum)

Sylvia McAdam (Saysewahum) is from the Treaty 6 lands in what is now called “Canada” and is from the nēhīyaw Nation. She is co-founder (along with Jessica Gordon, Sheelah McLean, and Nina Wilson) of Idle No More, a global grassroots movement for Indigenous sovereignty, rights, and the respect for the treaties to protect the environment and create economic and social equality.

Sylvia is a leader of a national conversation that touches all Canadians and Indigenous peoples through its potential to raise awareness among non-Aboriginal society members, and to bring pride and dignity to First Nations’ peoples and communities. She has a peaceful yet forceful determination to bring about positive change.

2016 Selection Committee
Photo: Quinn Dombrowski
Photo: Zach Embree
Photo: Anna Lee

In late 2015, in an attempt to address the seemingly unsolvable housing crisis in First Nations’ communities, she was part of a group who launched a crowdsourcing campaign, “One House, Many Nations,” to raise funds to build sustainable housing for First Nations communities. The campaign’s impact has been both symbolic and real, and has brought much-needed attention and awareness to the epidemic of homelessness that affects Canadians and Indigenous peoples, and particularly women. 

McAdam is the author of two books Nationhood Interrupted: Revitalizing nêhiyaw Legal Systems (UBC Press) and Cultural Teachings: First Nations Protocols and Methodologies (Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre), a compilation of teachings, language, and customs that have traditionally been orally shared and passed down through generations. 

Through the work of protecting land and water, Sylvia has been awarded several awards namely; the 2013 Carole Geller Human Rights Award, Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers 2014, Social Justice Award, and 2014 Global Citizen Award. She holds a Juris Doctorate (LL.B) from the University of Saskatchewan, and a Bachelor of Human Justice (B.H.J) from the University of Regina.   

[Shelter] is a treaty term — and promise for Indigenous people — that shelter is one of the promises. It’s a fundamental and foundational human rights issue. When you address shelter and housing, you address so many things. We’re talking about mental health, the well-being of families and stability of families.

Sylvia McAdam, CBC

From the Prize Ceremony


Selection Committee

Harold Madi


Founding Principal, Urbanism by Design

Former Senior Principal & Urban Places Canada Lead, Stantec

Odile Hénault

Architecture critic and communications consultant 

Peter Busby

C.M., FRAIC, LEED Fellow

Principal, Perkins & Will