Colleen Toms/Brant News
Laurier Brantford student Sally Simpson created a list of aboriginal female firsts when one didn't exist.

Student Creates List of Female Aboriginal Firsts

March 29, 2013

Doing a collage of indigenous female leaders proved challenging for student Sally Simpson. That’s because an easily accessible list of such women did not exist, until now.

“There’s a lot of those types of list for other people like black women, Chinese women, British women … so I just assumed there would be one and was shocked that there wasn’t,” Simpson, 48, a student at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, told The Record.

Simpson is working toward her bachelor’s degree in indigenous studies, contemporary studies and organizational leadership and wanted to do the collage for an assignment in her indigenous women’s studies class. More impressive than the collage was the list of 60 women she came up with.

Her list includes an array of women including Mary Two-Axe Earley, who challenged the Royal Commission on gender discrimination. Earley, a Mohawk from Quebec, won back Indian status in 1967 after losing it when she married a non-aboriginal.

Buffy Sainte-Marie

Cree singer/songwriter, entertainer, activist and humanitarian Buffy Sainte-Marie graces the list for winning an Oscar for the song Up Where We Belong in 1983.

Most entries on the list are relatively recent, which Simpson found shocking.

“I found it very alarming that the first doctor, she didn’t become a doctor until 1980,” she told The Record about Dr. Elizabeth Steinhauer, Cree.

“This list does two things for me,” Simpson told Brant News. “It empowers me as a woman because of what I did to get here. I have to only look at the list and I become inspired because of these women and what they had to deal with. What I’m doing is nothing compared to the adversity they have overcome.

“The other thing this list does for me is that…I’ve been learning a lot about systemic discrimination. When I saw the dates of when these women accomplished their goals and then I compared it to European women, it became glaringly obvious.”

Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture

The worst example of this would be that of Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture, the oldest entry on Simpson’s list. In 1914, Monture was the first indigenous woman to become a registered nurse, but to achieve this she had to get an education in the United States. The ban on Indigenous Peoples being able to pursue post-secondary education wasn’t lifted in Canada until the 1960s.

“Aboriginal children were taken from their families and communities, and placed in residential schools where they were forbidden to speak their language and practice their culture. If an aboriginal student somehow survived the residential school and wanted a higher education, it was rarely possible,” according to a study titled “International Survey on Adult Education for Indigenous Peoples” prepared by Cathy Richardson and Natasha Blanchet-Cohen. “It was only at the end of the 1960s that Canada’s policies began to shift.”

“Despite of all the things [Monture] couldn’t do, she went and did it anyway,” Simpson told The Record. “I thought that was amazing to have the courage.”

Simpson hopes this list serves as an educational tool for people to learn about the accomplishments of these women, but also as a way to shine a light on Canada’s mistakes.

To make a suggestion for the list email Simpson at [email protected]. To view the full list, visit