Ruth Gorman was an unsung heroine.
Born into privilege in Calgary in 1914, she charted a course that society might not have expected of a debutante. She earned a law degree, became one of the very few female lawyers in the province in the 1940s and 50s, and played a largely unheralded role in the fight for Indigenous rights in Alberta and Canada over the decades to come. Ruth volunteered as the solicitor for the Indian Association of Alberta, serving in the hard-fought and ultimately victorious battle to have section 112 of the Indian Act repealed so indigenous people could vote without giving up their treaty rights, among many other such fights. Notes in her files from the time lament “general hopelessness” on the reserves and “the plight of an isolated people and their wish for education, inclusion and validation.”
In 1957, the Cree Nation bestowed the name of “Queen Morning Star” on Ruth in recognition of her efforts to advance the cause of Alberta’s First Nations.
Over the course of her long career she worked closely with John Laurie, who was the public face of Indigenous rights advocacy in the province, and began writing his biography and the story of the struggle. It was only when she turned the unfinished manuscript and records over to a colleague, near the end of her life, that the scope and impact of Ruth’s own contributions became clear. The resulting book, Behind the Man, published five years after her 2002 death, also highlighted her lifelong mission to correct the injustices in Canada’s treatment of Indigenous People.
“She passionately believed that Canadian society was not living up to their treaty obligations and that if Canadians as a whole knew of their shame there would be change,” a passage from Behind the Man reads. “She, at no time, believed that she was engaged in “uplifting” the Aboriginal condition. She believed that if there were “a condition” it had been imposed by the Canadian government and particularly its Department of Indian Affairs.”