Female Indigenous Firsts

Suzanne  -  Jan 31, 2014  -  , , , , , ,  - 

Angela Chalmers

Wilfred Laurier University student Sally Simpson has updated her list of Aboriginal women trailblazers. First released last year as part of her scholarly research, Simpson continues to add to and revise the list. It now contains 92 entries detailing the accomplishments of Aboriginal women in all walks of life, from academia, justice, policing, arts, and religion to government, health, business, sports, and the trades.

All Canadians will benefit from reading the list, as it shows just how many important contributions have been made by Aboriginal women in this country. Teachers and students will also benefit, as it provides an excellent starting point for research and writing projects.

To read Dragonfly’s original blog post on Simpson’s list, click on the link to the July 2013 archives. The complete list follows below:

Female, Indigenous, and First to…

Travel to England and successfully petition Queen Victoria to intervene in a land claim dispute near Owen Sound, Ontario. The Queen granted Catherine legal ownership, but  the Canadian government did not honour the Queen’s decision: Nahnebahwequay (Catherine Sutton), Mississauga, 1860

Become a registered nurse: Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture, Mohawk, 1914

Mary Greyeyes

Officially serve in the Canadian Armed Forces: Private Mary Greyeyes, Cree, 1943

Publish the first novel (Sanaaq) in Inuttitut (language of the Labrador Inuit): Mitiarjuj Nappaaluk, Inuk, 1951

Become an elected chief of a First Nation (Curve Lake): Elsie Knott, Ojibwe, 1954

Become a professional wood carver: Ellen Neel, Kwakwaka’wakw, 1954

Construct a Cree syllabic typewriter: Marie/Maria Neegan-Gagnon, Cree, 1956

Graduate from the University of British Columbia. Also the 1st to work for the John Howard Society, where she counselled female prisoners: Gloria Cranmer-Webster, Kwakwaka’wakw, 1956

Become a flight attendant: Annie Weetaltuk, Inuk, 1959

Canadian stamp honouring E. Pauline Johnson

Be on a Canadian stamp (1st author and 1st woman other than the Queen): Pauline Johnson, Mohawk, 1961

Publish an Indigenous newspaper (Tekawennake): Wilma Jamieson, Mohawk, 1963

Challenge the Royal Commission on gender discrimination and win back her Indian status. This ruling is connected to the U.N. holding Canada in breach of human rights in 1981 (see Lovelace) and would later become Bill C-31 in 1985: Mary Two-Axe Earley, Mohawk, 1967

Be appointed Officer of the Order of Canada (promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada in 1982): Kenojuak Ashevak, Inuk, 1967

Receive the Tom Longboat award for the most outstanding Aboriginal Athlete of the Year for leading her softball team in the Canadian Women’s Championship. Also a member of the Ontario gold-medal winning team at the Canada Games in 1969: Phyllis Bomberry, Mohawk, 1968

Become a registered Public Health Inspector: Rita Swakum (Manuel), Sylix, 1969

Become Olympians (cross-country skiing) and the 1st Canadian women to compete in four straight Olympics: Sharon & Shirley Firth, Dene, 1972

Become a Human Rights Commissioner for Alberta. Also founded the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women: Muriel Stanley Venne, Métis, 1973

Host a show on CBC Radio-Canada: Myra Cree, Mohawk, 1973

Become the Assistant Director of Training at the Nechi Institute on Alcohol and Drug Education and a leading expert on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Rebecca Martell, Cree, 1974

Become President of NWAC (Native Women’s Association of Canada): Bertha Clark-Jones, Métis, 1974

Own and operate a radio station, called SPIRIT 91.7 (now CIXL-FM): Suzanne Rochon-Burnett, Métis, 1974

Become a commercial pilot (Land, Sea & Block Airspace): Dr. Alis Kennedy, Métis, 1976

Become a lawyer: Marion Ironquill Meadmore, Ojibwe-Cree, 1977

Become a prison guard (at the Prison for Women in Kingston): Jane Chartrand Nokomis, Algonquin, 1978

Attain a black belt in martial arts (tae kwon do): Janet Bernard, Mi’kmaq, 1979

Become a medical doctor: Dr. Elizabeth Steinhauer, Cree, 1980

Earn a Masters degree in Education: Verna Kirkness, Cree, 1980

Earn a Ph.D. in Educational Theory: Dr. Marlene Brant Castellano, Mohawk, 1981

Sandra Lovelace

Succeed in having the United Nations declare Canada in breach of human rights when an Indigenous woman’s Indian status was revoked if she married a non-Indigenous man: Sandra Lovelace, Maliseet, 1981

Earn a Masters degree in Library Science: Phyllis Lerat, Cowessess, 1981

Earn a Ph.D. in Biological Psychiatry: Dr. Lillian Dyck, Cree, 1981

Become a Member of Legislative Assembly of a Territory (NDP MLA for Yukon Territories): Margaret Commodore, Sto:lo, 1982

Be appointed non-Parliamentarian ex-officio member of a House of Commons Committee. In 1989, 1st female to serve the Legislative Assembly as Ombudsman of Ontario. In 1992, the International Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution awarded her the 1st Mary Parker Follett Award: Roberta Jamieson, Mohawk, 1982

Win an Academy Award, for the song “Up Where We Belong”: Buffy Sainte-Marie, Cree, 1983

Be ordained by the United Church of Canada: Christina Baker, Cree, 1983

Produce a professional play, Flight, with an all-Indigenous cast. Also wrote the 1st Canadian Indigenous autobiography, Halfbreed, in 1973: Maria Campbell, Métis, 1985

Become a full university professor (University of Alberta). Also wrote Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples From Earliest Times, the 1st Canadian Indigenous history book for post-secondary education written by an Indigenous person: Dr. Olive Dickason, Métis, 1985

Become a Chartered Accountant and the 1st Director at the Office of the Auditor General of Canada: Charlene Taylor, Heiltsuk, 1986

Direct an Indigenous documentary film (Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief): Carol Geddes, Tlingit, 1986

Ethel Blondin-Andrew

Become a Member of Parliament (Liberal) and the 1st appointed to Privy Council when named Minister of State for Youth and Training in 1993: Ethel Blondin-Andrew, Dene, 1988

Anchor a national news television broadcast (CBC): Carol Morin, Cree-Chipewyan, 1989

Launch Canada’s first Indigenous commercial fishery: Wendy Grant-John, Musqueam, 1990

Become a dentist (starting as a dental assistant in 1973, dental nurse in 1977, and dental therapist in 1979): Dr. Mary Jane McCallum, Cree, 1990

Be appointed a Provincial Court Judge: The Honourable Justice Terry Vyse, Mohawk, 1991

Be elected Premier of a Canadian Territory (Northwest Territories): Nellie Cournoyea, Inuk, 1991

Earn a Masters degree in Civil Engineering: Karen Decontie, Algonquin, 1991

Become CEO of a steel company: Hilda Broomfield-Letemplier, Inuk, 1991

Patricia Monture-Angus

Refuse and win the right to not pledge her oath to the Queen of England (the oath is a requirement to be called to the bar as a lawyer): Patricia Monture-Angus, Mohawk, 1992

Win an Olympic medal (bronze in 3,000 m): Angela Chalmers, Sioux, 1992

Become a journeyperson in carpentry: Deborah Nelson, Nuxalk, 1992

Chair the Council for Yukon Indians when they signed the first modern-day treaty that included the right to self-government. And in 1995, the 1st Commissioner of the Yukon: Judy Gingall, Tagish Kwan (Southern Tutchone), 1993

Receive a Rudy Martin Award: Tantoo Cardinal, Métis, 1993

Serve as the Speaker of the House (Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories). Also the 1st Cabinet Minister in NWT, serving in 1987: Jeannie Marie Jewell, Dene, 1993

Be appointed a Superior High Court Judge: The Honourable Madam Justice Rose Toodick Boyko, Tsek’Ehne, 1994

Be appointed Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs (1st person in Canada): Mary May Simon, Inuk, 1994

Become a Provincial Member of Parliament (Liberal MHA for Newfoundland): Yvonne Jones, Métis, 1996

Become a Canadian Senator: Thelma Chalifoux, Métis, 1997

Write, produce, direct, and act in a dramatic film (Silent Tears): Shirley Cheechoo, Cree, 1997

Become registered midwives (they graduated from the same class): Carol Mercedes Couchie & Julie Hill, Nishnawbe Kwe & Mohawk, 1998

Become a psychiatrist: Dr. Cornelia Wieman, Ojibwe, 1998

Lisa Odjig

Become the World Champion Hoop Dancer in the adult female and male combined division (1st female in the world): Lisa Odjig, Odawa-Ojibwe, 2000

Become a dual Justice of the Peace (federal and provincial, 1st person in Canada): Her Worship Norma General-Lickers, Mohawk, 2000

Earn a Ph.D. in Aboriginal Economy: Dr. Wanda Wuttunee, Cree, 2001

Win a gold medal, World Champion Junior Wrestling (also gold, Pan American Championship Senior Wrestling 2003): Tara Rose Hedican, Ojibwe, 2001

Achieve the rank of full professor based on traditional knowledge (Trent University): Shirley Ida Williams, Ojibwe-Odawa, 2003

Be an Olympian for the sport of modern pentathlon (1st for both men and women), competing in pistol shooting, epee fencing, 200-m freestyle swimming, show jumping, and a 3 km cross-country run: Monica Pinette, Métis, 2004

Become a sous chef/pastry chef at 24 Sussex Drive (residence of the Prime Minister of Canada): Lea Nicholas-MacKenzie, Maliseet, 2004

Become an RCMP Superintendent: Shirley Cuillierrier, Mohawk, 2004

Rebecca Belmore, "Fountain"

Represent Canada at the Venice Biennale with the video installation “Fountain”: Rebecca Belmore, Ojibwe, 2005

Participate in an international cycling expedition (Canada, Russia, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa): Miranda Huron, Algonquin, 2005

File the first class-action suit against the federal government for over 70,000 residential school survivors: Nora Bernard, Mi’kmaq, 2005

Become an archaeologist: Brandy George, Chippewa, 2006

Become a climatologist: Dr. Jeannine-Marie St. Jacques, Métis, 2007

Conduct the first study of 64 Canadian female chiefs: Dr. Cora Voyageur, Athabasca-Chipewyan, 2008

Hold the most senior position at Indian Affairs and Northern Development (Senior Assistant Deputy Minister): Gina McDougall-Wilson, Algonquin, 2008

Become a Conservative Member of Parliament: Leona Aglukkaq, Inuk, 2008

Become a veterinarian dentist (1st person in the world): Dr. Candace Grier-Lowe, Cree, 2009

Lead negotiations and sign the first modern urban treaty (Tsawwassen Treaty in B.C.): Kim Baird, Tsawwassen, 2009

Become a certified hydro operator (Island Falls facility in Sandy Bay, Saskatchewan): Nicole Stewart, Cree, 2009

Have a solo exhibit at the National Art Gallery of Canada: Daphne Odjig, Ojibwe, 2009

Become a medical doctor (1st Deaf person): Dr. Jessica Dunkley, Métis, 2010

Win an Olympic medal in the Winter Games (silver in curling): Carolyn Darbyshire, Métis, 2010

Earn a bachelor degree in Indigenous Environmental Studies: Teyotsihstokwáthe Dakota Brant, Mohawk, 2010

Earn a Ph.D. in Geography: Dr. Cynthia Anne Jones, Ojibwe, 2010

Co-found and become President of the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada. At age 22, also the youngest associate accepted into one of Canada’s most competitive post-graduate finance programs, RBC’s Graduate Leadership Program: Gabrielle Scrimshaw, Dene, 2011

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

Earn a Ph.D. in Criminology: Dr. Lisa Monchalin, Algonquin-Huron-Métis, 2011

Be awarded a Performing Arts Award in Nunavut (for Inuit drum dancing): Veronique Nirlungayuk, Inuk, 2012

Be appointed a Supreme Court Justice of a Territory: Supreme Court Justice Shannon Smallwood, Dene, 2012

Become a Roman Catholic Saint (1st Indigenous person in the world): Kateri Tekakwitha, Mohawk, 2012

Become a Canadian Red Cross National Director (Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, Disaster Management): Melanie Goodchild, Ojibwe, 2013

Become an RCMP Chief Superintendent: Brenda Butterworth-Carr, Tr’ondek Hwech’in, 2013

Earn a Masters degree in Infrastructure Protection and International Security: Teresa Nadon, Algonquin, 2013


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