Late to the celebration of Ms Earley

13 03 2016

So, as I mentioned elsewhere, I recently read an edition of Canada’s History that highlighted some of Canada’s great women. 20? 30? Let’s try closer to HALF THE POPULATION! OK – that would be quite a thick magazine, I suppose.

Anyway, though the 20 that were featured in the magazine had been selected by a group of themselves relatively well known Canadian women, there seemed to be a skewed representation towards authors. Not that they were any less remarkable for that. They opened up the Canadian literary scene to more earthy examinations of inner city issues, feminism (of course) and simply great story telling. One or two I’d heard of. One or two I’d even read – such as Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel.

Of the 20 that were featured though, my “favourite” – if that’s even a valid concept in this context – was Mary Two-Axe Earley. The accompanying illustration was an interpretation of a CP/Toronto Star photograph on the magazine’s website, and she looked like anyone’s kindly nanna. But what a force!

Canada’s History: Mary Two-Axe Earley

As I read about her life I was struck by how Canadian history – even relatively recent history – was completely unknown in the UK. Things we might reasonably expect and take for granted have been hard fought for by strong women such as Two-Axe Earley. The world – and in this case Canada in particular – is undeniably a better place for the things women like her have achieved.

Born as a Canadian Mohawk on 4th October 1911, she moved to the US and married an Irish/American engineer – Edward Earley – and had a brace of little ‘uns. Because Edward was non-Aboriginal, she fell foul of the 1876 Indian Act and lost all her rights along with her Indian status. As well as the loss of the right to live on the land she was brought up on, she couldn’t vote in the reserve’s elections or even be buried in its cemetery. None of this concerned her at the time. She was living in Brooklyn and was very much in love. Then…

A friend of hers died in 1966 and she discovered that her friend had been ordered off her own reserve for marrying a Mohawk from a different reserve. No such penalty was suffered by men, and she was pretty sure the stress had contributed to her friend’s death. Written in the Victorian era, the Indian Act simply reflected the prevalent view at the time that women were basically possessions of their husbands.

Enraged into action, Two-Axe Earley founded Equal Right for Indian Women, which later became Indian Rights for Indian Women. The Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada was established in 1967 and gave a platform to present the case. The commission duly recommended that the relevant clauses of the Indian Act be repealed such that First Nations men and women should have the same rights with respect to property and marriage as any other Canadian. So naturally not a lot happened.

It wasn’t until the 1982 Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms though that her campaign really got the teeth it needed. In 1985 the government finally amended the Indian Act so that it reflected the equality provision in the Charter. As well as returning rights to women who had previously lost them through the archaic clauses in the act and “marrying out”, there were two generations of children from those unions that were now eligible for status. More than 15,000 women were affected by this decision!

When she finally died in 1996, Mary Two-Axe Earley was laid to rest in the cemetery near her birthplace, Kahnawake. A right she had fought long and hard to gain.

If you’d like to learn more about this remarkable lady, check out her bio at Windspeaker.





Ancient & Modern

13 03 2016

As I may have mentioned – though potentially not to you – Mrs E and I marked our 6th wedding anniversary the other week. After 24 years married. The smarter amongst you will figure out how those facts are not mutually exclusive. We went to stay on the west coast of Vancouver Island, at a place called Wickaninnish Inn – a lovely place to go Storm Watching.

Chesterman Beach, Vancouver Island

Anyway, to pass the time on the ferry, I bought a copy of “Canada’s History”. This used to go by the name of “The Beaver” and was originally the Hudson’s Bay Company’s internal magazine. It’s well known for being brimful of Asha Canadiana. This particular edition was celebrating 20 great Canadian women and that was what caught my eye and lured me to part with the $8 required for the privilege to read it.

The very back cover though was also of interest. As is the norm, it was a full page advert. In this case for the Toronto-Dominion Bank . It was advertising the TD Gallery of Inuit Art in Toronto. The image they’d chosen to use was of “Young man with MP3 player” by Pitseolak Qimirpik, a Cape Dorset artist.

There is no denying the skill of the guy, and you can see more of his work at Dorset Fine Arts. The thing that made me pause though was not only the display of traditional carving skill, but the contemporary subject matter. Here was a very contemporary subject (spliff, earbuds and all), but portrayed in a very ancient way. Not with a digital image or some fancy PhotoShop work, but with time, care and skill… in a 17 inch high piece of serpentine with antler and wire. It inspired me to want to learn more. Not just of the work of Qimirpik himself, but of his culture and motivation.

pitseolakqimirpikcopy

Source: Dorset Fine Arts PITSEOLAK QIMIRPIK – YOUING MAN WITH MP3 PLAYER, 2010