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Disinherited Generations

Our Struggle to Reclaim Treaty Rights for First Nations Women and their Descendants

by (author) Nellie Carlson & Kathleen Steinhauer

with Linda Goyette

The University of Alberta Press
Initial publish date
Jul 2013
Human Rights, Native American Studies
About Alberta
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    Publish Date
    Jul 2013
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This oral autobiography of two remarkable Cree women tells their life stories against a backdrop of government discrimination, First Nations activism, and the resurgence of First Nations communities. Nellie Carlson and Kathleen Steinhauer, who helped to organize the Indian Rights for Indian Women movement in western Canada in the 1960s, fought the Canadian government's interpretation of treaty and Indigenous Rights, the Indian Act, and the male power structure in their own communities in pursuit of equal rights for Indigenous women and children. After decades of activism and court battles, First Nations women succeeded in changing these oppressive regulations, thus benefitting thousands of their descendants. Those interested in human rights, activism, history, and Indigenous Studies will find that these personal stories, enriched by detailed notes and photographs, form a passionate record of an important, continuing struggle. Foreword by Maria Campbell.

About the authors

Nellie Carlson was born into the Saddle Lake Cree Nation. She is a founder and long-time activist with Indian Rights for Indian Women and worked as a counselling elder with Amiskwaciy Academy, NorQuest College, and Prince Charles School. In 1988 Nellie Carlson received a Governor General’s Award in commemoration of the Persons Case to recognize her work to promote the equality of women. She lives in Edmonton.

Nellie Carlson's profile page

Kathleen Steinhauer (1932-2012) was born into the Saddle Lake Cree Nation. She was a founder and long-time activist with Indian Rights for Indian Women. She lost her treaty status when she married a non-status Cree, and in 1992 she launched a lawsuit in the Federal Court of Canada to be reinstated on the band list of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, a case she won seven years later. She lived in Edmonton.

Kathleen Steinhauer's profile page

Samantha Warwick was born in Montreal and raised in Sutton, Quebec and Vancouver. She received her MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia in 2003. Her work has been broadcast on CBC Radio and has appeared in various literary magazines including Geist, Event, Room and echolocation. Samantha Warwick spent seven years coaching competitive swimming between 1997 and 2004, and has participated in long distance open-water swim races in British Columbia, California and New York. She now lives and works in Calgary where she is at work on her second novel.

Linda Goyette's profile page


  • Winner, Trade Non-Fiction, Alberta Book Publishing Awards

Editorial Reviews

"In this oral autobiography told to a Canadian writer, Carlson and Steinhauer (d. 2012), Saddle Creek Cree cousins, relate the story of their activism against discrimination by the federal government in the Indian Act and resistance in their own community." Book News Inc., 2013

"An engaging and inspirational book, Disinherited Generations will have an audience among students, researchers and other people wanting to know more about treaty and Aboriginal rights, activism, the First Nations women's movement and the Indian Act.... Writing about gender discrimination in the Indian Act tends to focus on legislation and court cases, which can inadvertently silence the impact of the law on the lived lives of First Nations people.... What is clear is that not only was the violence of the Indian Act meted out on individuals, it was targeted at families and had a deep impact on cultural and collective levels. It is clear that the book was produced in a spirit of history telling that emphasizes sharing, generating research and strengthening Indigenous nations." Mary Jane Logan McCallum, Histoire Sociale/Social History, November 2013

"...a highly readable set of conversations between the two Cree elders, transcribed and lovingly edited by the third author into eight chapters that address key 20th-century issues for Aboriginal women in Canada.... Discussion on the 'Indian Act,' treaty rights, and gender inequality is no academic exercise, but 'a personal matter, a family inheritance' that powerfully illustrates their effects on Aboriginal women and their children. The authors personalize the political and historical, and politicize their personal histories.... The strengths here are continuously revealed like so many repeated offerings of oral teachings of indigenous elders. Highly recommended. All levels/libraries." G. Bruyere, Choice Magazine, September 2013

"Disinherited Generations is an oral history of Carlson and Steinhauer's struggles to fix the inherent sexism of the Indian Act. The story picks up at the founding of their activist group Indian Rights for Indian Women and carries on through years of advocacy and legal set-backs all the way to 1985, when section 12(1)(b) was finally repealed to adhere to the recently passed Charter of Rights and Freedoms." Michael Hingston, Edmonton Journal, February 15, 2013

"Knowing about these two women's stories (as well as those of important people like Jenny Shirt Margetts and Mary Two-Axe Earley among numerous others) is one of the missing pieces of a complex puzzle about contemporary Canadian history and the treatment of a large group of our country's citizens." Scott Hayes, St. Albert Gazette, April 10, 2013

"...a unique and unforgettable look into the lives of two determined Aboriginal women, whose extraordinary efforts and unwavering determination helped to set new precedents and changed the way that Canada's Indian Act perceived and treated First Nations women.... This oral autobiography, which is highlighted by detailed notes, photographs and personal stories of tumultuous times and triumphant achievements, is a must read for every student of Native Studies and those interested in learning more about the quest for dignity, human rights, gains made through various types of peaceful activism, and Aboriginal history in Canada as a whole." John Copley, Alberta Native News, March 2013

#5 on the Edmonton Journal's Non-fiction Bestsellers list for the week of May 3, 2013

“As a direct result of Carlson and Steinhauer’s work, the number of ‘registered Indians’ in Canada more than doubled, from about 360,000 in 1985 to 824,341 in 2010—radically impacting the face of Aboriginal/State relations in Canada, and with it the face of what ‘reconciliation’ looks like today in Canada…. Indigenizing these archives—inviting researchers to the kitchen table to share Aboriginal history—Carlson, Goyette and Steinhauer offer a uniquely Cree and Métis space for scholars to build research and structure argument.”

Canadian Literature

"This book is a testament to the strength of these women who persevered, despite threats that they and their families would be shot if they tried coming back to their reserves. In the face of ridicule, insufficient funds, legal loopholes and interminable delays, why did they continue? Valuable context behind the women's motivation comes in pages devoted to their memories.... Steinhauer succumbed to cancer last year, but her written story, with Carlson's, survives to influence a new generation..." Dianne Meili, Alberta Views, September 2013