Canada is known around the world as a country of peace, acceptance, and multiculturalism. However, as with many countries that were originally colonies, Canada’s history is a lot darker than we care to admit and has carried its consequences through to today. So this Canada Day we wanted to educate ourselves on amazing Indigenous women that we weren’t taught about in history class, and hopefully can inspire you to learn more about the real founders of our great nation.
Mary Two Axe Earley
Mary Two Axe Earley was a Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) elder and activist who worked tirelessly for women and children's rights and was instrumental in changing the laws that discriminated against Indigenous women.
Indigenous women’s status was originally tied to their husbands status, and if a woman married a non Indigenous man her status was removed and she lost the right to live on her own land and to be buried with her people. This also would occur if a woman divorced her Indigenous husband. Mary had married an Irish American man and fought to be able to return to her homeland. She succeeded and helped Indigenous women reclaim their rights and personhood, and because of her work and the changes to the laws, she was able to be buried alongside her ancestors.
Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture
Usually known as Edith Monture was a Mohawk First World War Veteran. She was the first Indigenous woman to become a registered nurse, to vote in a Canadian Federal Election, and to serve in the US army. She had to study nursing in the US as Canadian schools would not admit Indigenous women, and doing so would also risk her losing her status. After the war, she returned to Canada and continued to work as a healthcare provider in her community. She died a week before her 106th birthday.
Nora was a Mi'kmaq activist who sought compensation for residential school survivors. She attended a residential school for 5 years. In 1995 she started an organization to support survivors of the Shubenacadie Residential School and contacted a lawyer to start a class action lawsuit with the intent to hold the government accountable and provide monetary compensation for the traumas they experienced. Once this lawsuit became public it inspired other Residential School Survivors organizations to also file their own class action lawsuits against the government.
Jean Cuthand Goodwill
Jean was a Cree woman and the first Indigenous registered nurse in Saskatchewan and one of the first in Canada. After watching her mother perish from tuberculosis then contracting it herself she spent many of her early years surrounded by medical professionals which inspired her to pursue a career in medicine. She created the Indian and Inuit Nurses (now known as the Aboriginal Nurses Association) and served as its president for 7 years. This association gives Indigenous nurses a forum to meet, learn, and discuss healthcare careers, and ways to better support their local communities. Her contributions to the medical communities had lasting impacts on Indigenous health care workers and the Indigenous communities they served.
These are only a few of the inspiring women we learned about during our research but we are excited to continue to highlight more Indigenous women throughout the year.
1st July is when most of us host barbeques and have friends and family over to celebrate, but we encourage you this year to have some harder conversations with your friends and family. We need to talk about the darkness that we often overlook and ignore. We need to talk about the high incarceration rates of Indigenous people, we need to talk about residential schools and forced sterilization, we need to talk about the missing and murdered girls and women. These conversations won't be easy but they are important to help make sure we are educated and can make better decisions when it comes time to vote or when you are looking for organizations to contribute to.
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Canada's Great Women. (2016, January 8). Retrieved June 21, 2020, from https://www.canadashistory.ca/explore/women/canada-s-great-women
Tallon, B., Robertson, J., & Decosse, J. (2017, March 7). 36 More Great Women. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.canadashistory.ca/explore/women/36-more-great-women
Timeline of Canadian Women's History. (n.d.). Retrieved June 21, 2020, from https://people.stfx.ca/nforeste/308website/women'shistorytimeline.html
Conn, H. (2017, December 4). Edith Monture. Retrieved June 21, 2020, from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/charlotte-edith-anderson-monture
Robinson, A. (2017, March 23). Mary Two-Axe Earley. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/mary-two-axe-earley
Simko, J. (2017, May 24). 150+ Canadians Day 42: Mary Two Axe Early. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.peacequest.ca/150-canadians-day-44-mary-two-axe-early/
6 incredible Indigenous women every Canadian should know. (2018, September 21). Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://newjourneys.ca/en/articles/6-incredible-indigenous-women-every-canadian-should-know-about
Nora Bernard. (2020, March 01). Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nora_Bernard
Alexander, K. (2019). Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/charlotte-edith-anderson-monture
Jean Cuthand Goodwill. (2019, December 11). Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://indspire.ca/laureate/jean-cuthand-goodwill-2/