150+ Canadians Day 42: Mary Two Axe Early

Image: Canadian Press / Toronto Star

Mary Two Axe Early contributed to peace by campaigning for equal rights for Indigenous women.  #Canada150

“Indian women and men should enjoy the same rights and privileges in matters of marriage and property as Canadians.”

Mary Two Axe Early, a Mohawk from Kahnawake, worked tirelessly to overturn terms in the Indian Act that discriminated on the basis of sex.

When she married a non-status man, Mary lost her own status under the Indian Act.  She could no longer live on the reserve, own land there, take part in political life, vote or be buried on the land where she was born. In contrast, men who married non-status women were permitted to keep their full status and pass it on to their children.

Early insisted that “Indian women and men should enjoy the same rights and privileges in matters of marriage and property as Canadians” and established the Equal Rights for Native Women association in 1967 to work for gender equality. In 1971, it contributed to forming a national organization, The Indian Rights for Indian Women association. (Later, 13 of these and similar groups would aggregate to form the Native Women’s Association of Canada, which is going strong and campaigning on similar issues today.)

The changes she demanded were put into place 20 years later in 1985 when parliament passed Bill C-31. This bill brought the Indian Act into accord with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Thousands of First Nations women who had married non-status or non-Native persons had their status and membership rights restored. Mary was the first to have her status reinstated.

In recognition of this achievement, Early was awarded a Governor General’s Award, an Honorary Doctorate of Law from York University, and a National Aboriginal Achievement Award.

Mary is, of course, just one of many Indigenous women who have done incredible work for equality in recent history. For further reading, we suggest this timeline of Indigenous Women’s Rights in Canada on the RiseUp Feminist Archive.

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