#WOTW: Mary Two-Axe Earley

Mary Two-Axe Earley, Kanien’kehá:ka, was a Mohawk elder, and an advocate for women and children, and a human rights activist. Two-Axe Earley grew up on the Kahnawà:ke reserve, a farming community adjacent to the St. Lawrence River, on Montréal’s south shore. The Kanien’kehá:ka are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Six Nations or Iroquois Confederacy). Two-Axe Earley was a pioneer and architect of the Canadian women’s movement. Her political activism helped to forge a coalition of allies to challenge Canadian laws that discriminated against Indigenous women. The great bulk of her political advocacy spanned the last three decades of her life, and she was particularly active in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Two-Axe Earley spent much of her life fighting against the injustices that the Indian Act created for Status Indian women. An amendment to the Act in 1876 — section 12(1)(b) — removed land and treaty rights for Status Indian women who “married out” (i.e., married a non-Status Indian man). Under this amendment, Status Indian men could still pass down their status to their wives and children, but Status Indian women could not. Two-Axe Earley mobilized a series of speaking and writing campaigns to raise the profile of abuses faced by women who had been denied status, treaty and property rights under the Indian Act. The hearings of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada (RCSW) began in 1967 as a direct result of the coordinated efforts of various women’s organizations. These groups repeatedly called for sovereignty over their own bodies, constitutional reform and equality under the law. Mary Two-Axe Earley fought for what she believed in and against the injustices that were affecting her community. She is a brilliant example of how resilient, committed and passionate indigenous women are and their voices will be heard.

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