March 9 2016 was a day to celebrate women’s achievements by recognizing International Women’s Day. Also, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced, the Bank of Canada will begin taking in nominations for iconic women to appear on the new bank note. The woman picked will set a precedent for equality and the future of all women in Canada.
Previously, the monarchy set the stage for Canada’s Head of State, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who has been prominently featured on our bank notes throughout her reign, from early as the young 8-year-old Princess Elizabeth to the $20 bill featuring the new Polymer- style note.
As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put it,” Because it’s 2015…” in response defending gender balance.
The Bank of Canada will be taking nominations, women of vision, up to April 15, 2016. As noted on the Bank of Canada website, “Nominees will be considered if they meet the following criteria:
- They are a Canadian (by birth or naturalization) who has demonstrated outstanding leadership, achievement or distinction in any field, benefiting the people of Canada, or in the service of Canada.
- They have been deceased for at least 25 years.
- Submissions of fictional characters will not be considered.”
With that said, I quickly nominated Gertrude Moltke Bernard, who’s pet name was Anahareo. What’s unique and interesting about her, is the fact she was married to the the famous Grey Owl, who’s mission in life was to protect wildlife and to be a conservationist spokesman throughout Canada.
But, it didn’t start that way in the beginning.
As a matter of fact, it was Anahareo who convinced Grey Owl to change from trapper to conservationist. Surprisingly, even though Anahareo was a Mohawk Iroquois born in Mattawa, Ontario, Canada, it was a very different story for her husband. Grey Owl (Archibald Belaney) fooled everyone into believing he was indeed a half-blooded Apache, right up to his death in 1938, where it was revealed he was born on September 18, 1888 in Hastings, England.
But, this isn’t about Grey Owl.
It’s about a remarkable First Nations woman, Anahareo, who her friends and family would nickname her,”Pony”. At the age of 19 she met Grey Owl, who at the time was 37 years old. In the beginning, even though Grey Owl was legally married to Angele Egwuna, he pursued Anahareo. They lived in the Canadian wilderness, as Grey Owl supported both of them, while trapping for pelts. After much persistence, Grey Owl agreed to take Anahareo on his trapline, which changed history.
She was appalled by what she saw.
Anahareo would see the senseless slaughter of fur bearing animals on a daily basis (during the winter months) helping her partner tend to the traps. Horrified by the inhumane trapping practices, she pleaded for Grey Owl to stop making a living this way.
Anahareo explained to her husband, the First Nations People (her people) believed in a Great Spirit who had power over the animals, the trees, our oceans and the sky above. Killing without respecting or cause, would angry the Great Spirit. If an animal was used for food and clothing, there was a sacred ritual required, allowing to set free the animal’s spirit. The torture of these animals caught in leg traps and left out to freeze to death, was completely against her people’s beliefs.
She insisted Grey Owl to stop.
But Grey Owl told her, he didn’t have a choice. The fur pelts were like gold, bringing in a good income, giving them food and shelter. It wasn’t until one winter day, Grey Owl hunted down a beaver to its home. Setting up the traps, he caught the beaver, not realizing it was a mother. As he started to canoe away, he heard the unmistakable cries (of what he thought at the time, sounded human) of babies.
Turning back, he found two beaver kits crying in distress.
That very day was the turning point in Grey Owl’s life, converting from trapper to conservationist. Anahareo persistence convinced Grey Owl to adopt them, as they raised them back to health. It was here, where Anahareo persuaded her husband to write books, instead of trapping. As a previous writer for her people, she helped Grey Owl to write his first book,”The Men of the Last Frontier” published in 1931. He wrote many articles for the Canadian Forest and Outdoor magazine, while his fame grew, the National Park Service made a film,’Beaver People’, featuring Grey Owl and Anahareo, in the hopes to attract tourists. Anahareo and Grey Owl became famous throughout North America and England.
His second book, “Pilgrims of the Wild” was published in 1934.
It was this book, forty years later, I had the privilege to read. It was a time where I wanted to go into the wilderness myself, with thoughts of living off the land. My high school friends use to call me,”Buckskin” because of the frequency I wore this handmade deerskin coat, fashioned with wildflowers.
It was the 70’s.
My goal was to read everything there was about survival and living off the land. It was then I read Grey Owls book,”Pilgrims of the Wild” during my English class in Grade 11. After reading his books it became clear to me, Anahareo was the greatest influence of Grey Owl’s life in the wilderness and aboard publicly. It was the “woman behind the man” syndrome that made Grey Owl the legend he is today.
Anahareo became a well known animal rights activist and conservationist in her lifetime. She eventually wrote her own book, “Devil in Deerskins: My Life With Grey Owl” explaining her life, unaware Grey Owl, was in fact an Englishman. In 1979, she was admitted into the “Order of Nature”, by the Paris International League of Animal Rights. On top of it all, in 1983, Anahareo was elected a Member of the Order of Canada, while sick in bed.
So, with admiration for The First Nations Woman, Anahareo, it’s my hope she will be the first woman of vision, recognized and honoured on the Canadian, Bank of Canada currency note.
Anahareo last days resided in Kamloops, B.C, where she died on June 17, 1986 at the age of 80 years old. Ironically, at the time, I had no idea she lived in the same city I did, so many years ago.
By Bari Demers – screenwriter and freelance writer