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Patricia Anne Monture was born in London, Ont., on Sept. 24, 1958. Her mother was Eleanor Townshend, eldest daughter of William Townshend, a crusading education reformer in southwestern Ontario and Anglican Suffragan Bishop of Huron. Her father was Harold (Moe) Monture, who was born and raised on the Six Nations reserve. He served as a wireless operator and tail gunner during the Second World War. Shot down over North Africa in 1944, he escaped capture, returned to active duty, and was the only gunner in his squadron to survive the war.
The union of a bishop's daughter and a native man was considered quite scandalous at the time.
The family moved off the reserve to avoid having to send their children to the "mush hole," or residential school. But tragedy found Patricia anyway: She was six when her mother died of surgical complications and nine when her father's heart gave out. The orphaned child went to live with her stepmother and found refuge in the world of books and words, devouring Perry Mason novels and being comforted by a line in The Diary of Anne Frank, "Paper is more patient than man." She resolved to become a writer.
That desire had to wait. "At 12, I discovered drugs were a much more effective way to push down one's pain," she recounted in one of two books she authored, the wrenchingly honest Thunder in My Soul: A Mohawk Woman Speaks. She was 35 when a long-suppressed memory bubbled to the surface: Also at the age of 12, she had been raped by two men, an episode she could barely admit happened, let alone talk about.
She completed high school during a brief and quiet interlude living with relatives in Chatham, Ont., but spent most of her teenage years cruising the streets of London, lonely, scared and struggling with her identity.
"I was half-white," she would recount, "and whites clearly thought I was an 'Indian.' They tended not to want me around. But the 'Indians' also felt I did not belong with them. ... For many years I believed the middle was nothing but lonely. It was not until much later in life I learned the middle was the place to be. I can walk both ways."
Despite a guidance counsellor saying she was not smart enough to attend university - "the words rang in my head for a very long time" - Monture signed up for two introductory courses in economics and sociology, and to her "amazement," did better than she ever thought she would. "Maybe I was more than a 'stupid Indian,'" she recalled in her writing. "And I began to dream."
And to work. She earned an honours bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Western Ontario in 1983, the law degree from Queen's, and a master's degree in law, on full scholarship, from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1998.
She tended to dwell on her law school experience. For one, she would point out, there is no word for "law" in the Mohawk tongue. The closest literal definition is "the way to live most nicely together." And the western model, predicated on conflict and adversarial relationships, is a far cry from that idyll.
She also believed, initially, that Canadian law could help aboriginal peoples. Instead, she learned that "every oppression aboriginal people have survived has been delivered up through Canadian law ... what I learned long after my law school graduation was that Canadian law is about the oppression of aboriginal people."
Monture went on to teach law at Dalhousie University and the University of Ottawa before landing at the University of Saskatchewan's department of native studies. In 2004, she switched to the sociology department as a full professor, specializing in penology and native justice. Her contribution to the advancement of women in the university was recognized with a 2007 Sarah Shorten Award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers.