Search for "Indigenous women"

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Indigenous Women's Issues in Canada

First NationsMétis and Inuit women (collectively referred to as Indigenous women) face many socio-economic issues today because of the effects of colonization. Europeans forced a male-controlled system of government and society (known as patriarchy) on Indigenous societies. The 1876 Indian Act disadvantaged certain Indigenous women by excluding them from band council government and enforcing discriminatory measures that took away Indian Status rights. Many Indigenous women today are leading the way in the area of healing the wounds of colonization, as they grapple with the issues of residential schools, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, abuse and violence, and drug, alcohol and other addictions. (See also Indigenous Feminisms in Canada.)

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Highway of Tears

The Highway of Tears refers to a 724 km length of Yellowhead Highway 16 in British Columbia where many women (mostly Indigenous) have disappeared or been found murdered. The Highway of Tears is part of a larger, national crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. In 2015, the federal government launched a national inquiry into these cases.

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Indigenous Feminisms in Canada

At their root, Indigenous feminisms examine how gender and conceptions of gender influence the lives of Indigenous peoples, historically and today. Indigenous feminist approaches challenge stereotypes about Indigenous peoples, gender and sexuality, for instance, as they appear in politics, society and the media. Indigenous feminisms offer frameworks for learning about and understanding these, and other issues, regardless of one’s gender or ethnicity.

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Roberta Jamieson

Roberta Louise Jamieson, OC, Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk) lawyer, ombudsman, Six Nations chief, policy advisor, senior mediator, businesswoman (born in 1953 at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory near Brantford, ON). Jamieson was the first Indigenous woman in Canada to earn a law degree (1976); first non-Parliamentarian appointed to a House of Commons committee (1982); first woman appointed ombudsman in Ontario (1989); and first woman elected as Six Nations chief (2001).

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Elsie Knott

Elsie Marie Knott (née Taylor), Ojibwe chief, community leader, entrepreneur (born 20 September 1922 on Mud Lake Reserve [now Curve Lake First Nation], ON; died there on 3 December 1995). Knott was the first elected female First Nations chief in Canada, after a 1951 amendment to the Indian Act permitted Indigenous women to vote and participate in band governments. She was also chief of her First Nation for 14 years, from 1954 to 1962 and from 1970 to 1976. Knott was dedicated to preserving the Ojibwe language and was known for her community activism and support of education.

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Nadine Caron

Nadine Rena Caron, surgeon, researcher, mentor, educator, patient advocate, community leader (born 1970 in Kamloops, BC). Nadine Caron was the first female First Nations student to graduate from the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine. She was also the first female First Nations general surgeon in Canada. For many years, Caron has highlighted the needs and voices of northern, rural and Indigenous populations in Canada.

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McIvor Case

The McIvor v. Canada case was about gender discrimination in section 6 of the 1985 Indian Act, which deals with Indian status. Sharon McIvor — a woman who regained status rights after the passing of Bill C-31 in 1985 — was not able to pass on those rights to her descendants in the same way that a man with status could. In her case against the federal government, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that section 6 did, in fact, deny McIvor’s equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In response to this case, the federal government introduced new legislation (Bill C-3) in 2011 to counter gender discrimination in the Indian Act.

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Sandra Birdsell

Sandra Birdsell (née Sandra Bartlette), CM, Mennonite-Métis, short-story writer, novelist (born 22 April 1942 in Hamiota, MB). Birdsell’s fiction often investigates the lives of small-town characters, especially women. She has written novels, plays, radio dramas and scripts for television and film. Appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 2010, Birdsell has been nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award for English Language Fiction three times, and for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2001.

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Demasduwit

Demasduwit (also known as Shendoreth, Waunathoake, Mary March), one of the last of the Beothuk (born 1796; died 8 January 1820 at Bay of Exploits, Newfoundland). Demasduwit helped to preserve the Beothuk language and culture. In 2007, the Canadian government recognized her as a person of national historic significance.

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Helen Mamayaok Maksagak

Helen Mamayaok Maksagak, CM, politician, public servant, community leader (born 15 April 1931 in Bernard Harbour, NT [NU]; died 23 January 2009 in Cambridge Bay, NU). Maksagak was the first woman and Inuk to serve as the commissioner of the Northwest Territories. A vocal and engaged advocate for Inuit affairs, she contributed to efforts to establish Nunavut as Canada’s third territory in the 1990s. In March of 1999, she was chosen as the first commissioner of the newly created Nunavut territory; her term lasted until March 2000. Maksagak returned to a formal political role in November 2005, when she was appointed deputy commissioner of Nunavut. In addition to her political career, Maksagak performed advocacy work, focusing on Inuit and, more broadly, Indigenous initiatives, such as improving access to social services.

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Catherine Sutton (Nahneebahwequa)

Catherine Sutton (née Sonego or Sunegoo) (sometimes spelled Catharine, also known as Nahnee, Nahneebahwequa and Upright Woman), Anishinaabe (Mississauga) writer, Methodist missionary and political advocate (born 1824 in the Credit River flats, Upper Canada; died 26 September 1865 in Sarawak Township, Grey County, Canada West). Catherine Sutton was as an advocate for her people during a time when the cultural, political and economic rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada were formally eroded by assimilationist policies.

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Thelma Chalifoux

Thelma Julia Chalifoux, Métis, senator, entrepreneur, activist (born 8 February 1929 in Calgary, AB; died 22 September 2017 in St. Albert, AB). Chalifoux was the first Métis woman appointed to the Senate of Canada. As a senator, she was concerned with a range of issues, including Métis housing, drug company relations with the federal government, and environmental legislation. An ardent advocate for women’s and Indigenous rights, Chalifoux was involved in organizations such as the Aboriginal Women’s Business Development Corporation and the Métis Women’s Council. She was also known for her work in the protection of Métis culture, having served in the Alberta Métis Senate and Michif Cultural and Métis Resource Institute (now Michif Cultural Connections).

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Olive Dickason

Olive Patricia Dickason (née Williamson), CM, Métis journalist, historian, university professor, author (born 6 March 1920 in Winnipeg, MB; died 12 March 2011 in Ottawa, ON). Dickason was the first scholar in Canada to receive a PhD in Indigenous history. Her ground-breaking research and books about Indigenous and Métis history and culture transformed how Canadians perceive the origin of their country and Indigenous peoples. Dickason’s work inspired a new generation of scholars, helping to launch Indigenous studies as an area of scholarly research. She received an Order of Canada in recognition of her achievements.

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Angela Chalmers

Angela Frances Chalmers, world-class distance runner from Birdtail Sioux First Nation (born 6 September 1963 in Brandon, MB). Chalmers is one of the most accomplished Indigenous athletes in Canada. She won three gold medals in total at the Commonwealth Games in 1990 and 1994. An advocate for Indigenous issues, Chalmers has made efforts to connect with and inspire Indigenous youth from across Canada. Among many honours and awards, Chalmers was inducted into Athletics Canada Hall of Fame in 2019.

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Marion Meadmore

Marion Meadmore (née Ironquill), OC, Ojibwe-Cree, one of the first Indigenous female lawyers in Canada, newspaper editor, community activist, founder and co-founder of national and Prairie Indigenous organizations (born in 1936 on the Peepeekisis reserve near Balcarres, SK.) She helped create the National Indian Council and co-founded the National Indigenous Council of Elders and the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada.

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Autumn Peltier

Autumn Peltier, Anishinaabe water-rights advocate, Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner (born 27 September 2004 in Wiikwemikoong Unceded Territory, Manitoulin Island, ON). Autumn Peltier is a world-renowned water-rights advocate and a leading global youth environmental activist. In April 2019, Peltier was appointed Chief Water Commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation and has spoken about the issue of contaminated water on Indigenous reserves in Canada at the United Nations. For her activism, Peltier was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

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Josephine Mandamin

Josephine Henrietta Mandamin, Anishinaabe elder, water-rights advocate, Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner (born 21 February 1942 in Wiikwemikoong Unceded Territory, Manitoulin Island, ON; died 22 February 2019). Mandamin, known as “Grandmother Water Walker” and Biidaasige-ba (“the one who comes with the light”), was a world-renowned water-rights activist. She walked around the Great Lakes from 2003 to 2017 to bring awareness to the problems of water pollution and environmental degradation on the Great Lakes and on Indigenous reserves in Canada. For her activism, Mandamin was awarded the Anishinabek Lifetime Achievement Award (2012) and the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Cross (2018). Her great-niece, Autumn Peltier, followed in Mandamin’s footsteps, becoming the next generation’s “water warrior.”

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Shawnadithit

Shawnadithit (also known as Nance or Nancy April), the last Beothuk (born circa 1800-6 in what is now NL; died 6 June 1829 in St. John’s, NL). Shawnadithit’s record of Beothuk culture continues to shape modern understandings of her people. In 2007, the federal government announced the unveiling of a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (See Historic Site) plaque recognizing Shawnadithit’s importance to Canadian history.

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Olivia Poole

Susan Olivia Davis Poole, inventor (born 18 April 1889 in Devils Lake, North Dakota; died 10 October 1975 in Ganges, BC). Olivia Poole was raised on the Ojibwe White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. There, she was inspired by the traditional practice of using a bouncing cradleboard to soothe babies. In 1957, she patented her invention of the baby jumper, under the name Jolly Jumper, making her one of the first Indigenous women in Canada to patent and profit from an invention.

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Women and the Indian Act

The Indian Act has affected Indigenous cultures, systems of governance, societies and ways of life since its enactment in 1867. Gender discrimination in the Act further disadvantaged First Nations women, in particular. Until 1985, women with Indian status who married someone without status lost their status rights. Men, on the other hand, did not lose Indian status in the same way. Even after Bill C-31 reinstated the status rights of many women in 1985, the Act still discriminated against women by privileging male lines of descent. Amendments in 2011 and 2017 sought to fix these issues. In 2019, the federal government brought into force the remaining part of Bill S-3, which is meant to address lingering sex-based inequities in the Indian Act. (See also Indigenous Women’s Issues.)

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