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Montour explores Mary Two-Axe Earley’s legacy

A portrait supplied by Ed Earley of the late Mary Two-Axe Earley, a historical figure of Canadian history. Local documentarian Courtney Montour is looking for material of the famous activist for an upcoming project. (Courtesy Ed Two-Axe Earley and Courtney Montour)

Kahnawa’kehró:non documentarian Courtney Montour is directing a project focusing on the legacy of Mary Two-Axe Earley, and is looking for footage, photos, audio recordings or anything else related to the activist. 

“A lot of my work revolves around Indigenous identity, trying to focus on women’s stories,” said Montour. “Many times, Indigenous women stories, I mean the positive ones, aren’t highlighted as much.”

According to Montour, Two-Axe Earley is a major historical figure not just for Indigeneous rights but for Canadians as a whole. 

“She’s from our community, so I think it’s so important to get her story out there,” she said. 

The journey to directing this film began with audio recordings Montour received from renowned Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin, and her conversations with Two-Axe Earley. They were recorded by Obomsawin in Two-Axe Earley’s home in 1984. 

“She didn’t get around itomaking a movie herself but said if I wanted to do something with (the audio recordings) she would give them to me,” said Montour. “That was such an incredible gift.”

For two years, Montour has been searching for more archival footage such as audio recordings, video and photographs of Two-Axe Earley, and said it’s been a lot of intensive research to find any kind of archival footage of the activist.

Two-Axe Earley was well-known in the decades she worked on the issues of gender discrimination and the Indian Act. She began working in 1968 and the first policy change came in 1985 with Bill C-31 (a Bill to Amend the Indian Act). 

Two-Axe Earley was well-known to different media outlets across Canada at the time, but Montour has had difficulty finding material to use in her documentary.

“It’s a challenge,” she said. “For some reason, with all the research that I have put in, a lot of the history is just not kept.” 

Institutions, Montour found, decide what is important to keep, and Two-Axe Earley material seems to have missed the cut. Montour intends to add this to her project.

“Another part to this film is the idea of how easily our past can be erased,” said Montour. “If the government or archival institutions don’t keep these things, then hopefully communities and people at home can bring those things out so our history isn’t forgotten by the general Canadian public.” 

Montour traveled several times to Edmonton, Alberta where she found more archival footage and met with Nellie Carlson, who provided her with photographs of Two-Axe Earley. Carlson worked alongside Two-Axe Earley and she is now 92 years old. Two years ago, Montour had the chance to interview her. 

“That was a priority for me because again once people pass on, it’s gone,” said Montour. 

Montour is now reaching out to Kahnawake for help. She is asking anyone who may have photographs, audio recordings, videos or any leads to contact her. 

“There might be stuff in our community because that was where the majority of Mary’s work took place,” she said. Montour’s previous work includes Sex, Spirit, Strength exploring sexual health and gender identity through the stories of two young Indigenous men, and Flat Rocks about a single Kahnawake farmer’s fight against the St. Lawrence Seaway’s construction.

Montour hopes to hire a local director-in-training for her upcoming project.

 “I think it’s really important to support upcoming filmmakers, Indigeneous people who have an interest in film. It’s an opportunity to shadow and see different stages of making a film,”said Montour. 

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Overall, this journey has been an emotional one for Montour. 

“I’m getting a complete view of her story and getting to hear her voice all the time,” she said. “It’s just so special and I can’t wait to share that with the world. I’m hoping from here that more people will come forward with information they have.”

Those with photos, audio recordings, video or information can contact Courtney Montour at (514) 716-1849 or by email at [email protected] 

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