Over the past few decades, feminist historians have successfully re-read and re-presented history from a female perspective, exploring a female viewpoint on history and demonstrating the significance of women’s actions and choices. The interdisciplinary field of women’s studies has, for its part, explored politics, society, media, and history from women’s perspectives through a lens that critiques social inequality. Despite these gains, however, the reality is that history is still written by the winner, and most often explained by considering the impact of the “great man,” or hero. This means that the stories of Aboriginal women have been neglected or ignored twice over.
To counter this lack of recognition – and the idea that Aboriginal peoples are not capable or did not make important contributions to Canadian society – Wilfred Laurier University student Sally Simpson has compiled a list of Aboriginal women trailblazers. Her four-page list includes the name and nation of each woman included, plus a description of her achievement, and the date on which it was achieved. Some entries on the list are familiar – Buffy Sainte-Marie was the first Aboriginal woman to win an Academy Award, and Angela Chalmers was the first Aboriginal woman to win an Olympic medal – but others are less well known. The story of Patricia Monture-Angus, for instance – who was the first person to refuse and win the right to not pledge her oath to the Queen of England when she was called to the bar as a lawyer – will help students, teachers, and all Canadians “develop an understanding of personal, cultural, and national identities” and why different groups have different perspectives (The Ontario Curriculum: Social Studies, Grades 1-6, revised 2013).
Of course, Aboriginal people have always known about and remembered our women and their contributions within Aboriginal societies and the dominant society. However, Simpson’s list collects that information in one place. It’s a handy reference tool that allows educators to skim the achievements for any connections to curriculum, projects, or big ideas they’re currently using in the classroom.
To read a Toronto Star story on Simpson and her list, click here. The list can be downloaded from a link in the Star story – just look for the word “list.”