The Amazing Mazie Baker
The Story of a Squamish Nation's Warrior Elder
When author Kay Johnston first met Mazie Baker, she came to know her as the reigning queen of bannock, selling out batch after batch of fluffy, light frybread at local powwows. She soon learned that Mazie, a matriarch and an activist, had been nurturing and fiercely protecting her community for a lifetime.
In 1931, Mazie Antone was born into the Squamish Nation, a community caught between its traditional values of respect-for the land, the family and the band-and the secular, capitalistic legislation imposed by European settlers. When she was six, the police carried her off to St. Paul's Indian Residential School, as mandated by the 1920 Indian Act. There, she endured months of beatings, malnourishment and lice infestations before her family collected Mazie and her siblings and fled across the border.
Once in Washington, the Antones weathered the Depression by picking fruit and working in the shipyard. After the war, the children were old enough that the family could safely return to their home on the Capilano Reserve. At sixteen, Mazie began working at a cannery; she packed salmon for eleven years, all the while learning to defend herself from supervisors and fellow packers foolish enough to make her a target. Mazie married her sweetheart, Alvie Baker, and together they raised nine children. Part of the legacy of residential school was that Mazie and her generation were alienated from their culture and language, but through her children, she reconnected with her Squamish identity. She came to mourn the loss of the old style of government by councils of hereditary chiefs and to criticize the corruption in the band leadership created in 1989 by federal legislation.
Galvanized by the injustices she saw committed against and within her community-especially against indigenous women, who were denied status and property rights-she began a long career of advocacy. She fought for housing for families in need; she pushed for transparency in local government; she defended ancestral lands; she shone a bright light into the darkest political corners. Her family called her ch'sken: Golden Eagle.
This intimate biography of a community leader illuminates a difficult, unresolved chapter of Canadian history and paints a portrait of a resilient and principled woman who faced down her every political foe, unflinching, irreverent, and uncompromising.
“With empathy, compassion and a keen eye for the hard facts, Kay Johnston has crafted the definitive biography of Mazie Baker, a true champion for human rights who has been overlooked in the history books of Canada. This insightful narrative gives us a glimpse into the woman and the warrior who crusaded for justice and a brighter way forward for all First Nations peoples. A book to be read and re-read.”
—Jacqueline Guest, Metis History Educator and Award-Winning Author
“Kay Johnston’s portrait of Mazie Baker, a woman whose strength and sense of justice have transformed indigenous life in Canada, and the shape of the nation itself, is a proud testament to the power of listening well and letting the listening speak. Mazie’s quiet strength is perfectly captured here, in a text that quietly opens the beauty and strength of everyday life and conviction. This testament to the power of family, women and community is more than a story of resilience. This is a book about being centred and whole, and passing that on with deep respect.”
— Harold Rhenisch, winner of the George Ryga Prize for Social Responsibility in BC Literature for The Wolves at Evelyn
“From her days as a cannery worker to her appearance before the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples in 1999, while raising children, nurturing grandchildren, and providing sound counsel to many Band member, this book provides a vivid portrait of an inspiring and resilient woman, one whose voice continues to echo.”
— Theresa Kishkan, Author of Patrin and A Man in a Distant Field
“The Amazing Mazie Baker contributes to the growing record of Indigenous peoples telling stories of resistance, resilience, and resurgence, and the book will be of interest to those studying women’s and gender history, Indigenous feminisms, and political organizing in colonial contexts.”
—Sean Carleton, BC Studies