The EIFF Presents 'Mary Two-Axe Earley: I Am Indian Again'
By Emil Tiedemann
At a time when people across the country are up in arms about their "personal rights and freedoms" in relation to mask mandates and vaccination passports, there's a new short documentary film that reminds us of a time (not all that long ago) when Indigenous women were fighting for their right to be recognized by the Canadian government as...Indigenous women!
Mohawk filmmaker Courtney Montour's Mary Two-Axe Earley: I Am Indian Again will be presented as part of the 35th annual Edmonton International Film Festival (Oct. 1-10) next month. Montour herself will be appearing in person to present her documentary - which was partly shot right here in Edmonton - at the EIFF on Sunday, October 3.
I Am Indian Again really puts things in perspective when you see the decades-long struggles of a group of Indigenous women's rights activists - perhaps most notably the film's namesake, Mary Two-Axe Earley - fighting for their right to reclaim their "Indian status," which was legally taken away from them the moment they married a non-Indigenous man.
Embedded in the discriminatory Indian Act, these Indigenous women were essentially stripped of their identity as an Indigenous person, at least according to Canadian law. And so were their children, even if they were divorced or widowed. This meant that these women (and their children) could be kicked off of their reservation and out of their community altogether, while no longer retaining any of their Indigenous rights. Some were not even allowed to be buried with their families on First Nations land.
This gender discrimination (Indigenous men who married non-Indigenous women retained their status, for the record) led Two-Axe Earley to establish the Equal Rights for Indian Women organization in 1967, before submitting a brief to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, in 1974. Thanks to Two-Axe Earley's relentless fight, as well as the support of many other Indigenous and non-Indigenous women, the Canadian Parliament finally passed C-31 to amend the Indian Act on June 28, 1985, ending this blatant discrimination.
Two-Axe Earley was the first woman to have her status restored, ahead of tens of thousands of other Indigenous women and their descendants. My own mother, who is of Cree background, married my father, a non-Indigenous man, just a few months before the landmark amendment. Eventually, my mother, my siblings, and myself all obtained our own Indigenous status.
As for Mary, she continued fighting for Indigenous women's rights, while also being honoured for her dedication, including the 1996 National Aboriginal Achievement Award and induction into the Order of Quebec, where she was born in 1911. Two-Axe Earley was 84 years old when she passed away in August 1996.
Mary Two-Axe Earley: I Am Indian Again is not just a beautiful and inspiring documentary film, it's an eye-opening look into a piece of Canadian history of which most of us are entirely unaware. It's a must-watch that sheds a light on a time when a specific group of Canadians actually lost some of their individual rights. We must never forget.