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Sandra Lovelace Nicholas

The Honourable
Mary Sandra Lovelace Nicholas
Senator for New Brunswick
Assumed office
September 21, 2005
Appointed by Paul Martin
Personal details
Born (1948-04-15) April 15, 1948
Political party Liberal

Mary Sandra Lovelace Nicholas, CM (born April 15, 1948) is a Wolastoqiyik or Maliseet Canadian senator representing New Brunswick. Sitting as a Liberal, she is the first Aboriginal woman appointed to the Senate. As an activist on behalf of First Nations women and children, she received international recognition in 1979 for bringing her case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. In 1985 she succeeded in having Parliament revoke a discriminatory section of the Indian Act, which had caused women marrying non-Aboriginals to lose status and also deprived their children of status but did not treat men the same who married non-Aboriginal women.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Career 2
  • Marriage and family 3
  • Legacy and honors 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Early life and education

Mary Sandra Nicholas was born a Maliseet in the Tobique First Nation. She studied at St. Thomas University and also obtained a degree in residential construction from the Northern Technical College in Maine, while living in the United States. As a young woman, she became an activist for aboriginal rights and has also worked as a carpenter.


The Native women's groups, Indian Rights for Indian Women and National Native Women's Association, had been involved in trying to right the inequity of provisions under the Indian Act that deprived First Nations women and their children from status by marriage to a non-Aboriginal. Men who married non-status women did not suffer the same loss of status. In 1974, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the law. Changes to the law were opposed by some male-dominated First Nations.

After being divorced from a non-Aboriginal man and returning to the Tobique reserve, Lovelace Nicholas found she and her children had lost their status as First Nations people, depriving them of rights to housing, education and healthcare for a decade. In July 1977 she joined with other women on a 100-mile walk to Ottawa to bring attention to the issue.

Lovelace Nicholas became known internationally as an activist when, in 1979, she petitioned the United Nations over the treatment of aboriginal women and children in Canada by the government, in the case known as Sandra Lovelace v. Canada (1977–1981). Among the policies she criticized was revoking the status of a First Nations woman if she married a non-aboriginal man, and denying status to their children. As noted, this had numerous effect, including denying such women equal access to reserve land. It imposed a patriarchal model of identity, depriving married women of their independent rights and status. In addition, as many of the First Nations had matrilineal systems, in which children belonged to the mother's people, the law deprived the children of such marriages of their traditional First Nations identity.

In 1985, Lovelace Nicholas was finally successful in her campaign to have the law changed. Parliament passed an amendment to have a 116-year-old section of the Indian Act removed that revoked an aboriginal woman's Indian status if she married a non-Aboriginal man. This protected the status of First Nations women and their children, and was important in preserving the culture of descendents who identified as Aboriginal.

In 2005 Lovelace Nicholas was the first Aboriginal woman appointed to the Senate, where she sat as a Liberal.

On January 29, 2014, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau announced all Liberal Senators, including Lovelace Nicholas, were removed from the Liberal caucus, and would continue sitting as Independents.[1] According to Senate Opposition leader James Cowan, the Senators will still refer to themselves as Liberals even if they are no longer members of the parliamentary Liberal caucus.[2]

Marriage and family

In 1970 Lovelace married Bennie Lovelace, a non-Aboriginal, and had one child with him. After they divorced, she moved back to her reserve, but found that she and her children were deprived of status rights because of her marriage. This affected her family's housing, health and education for her children. It took her nearly a decade to reclaim her First Nations status, leading to her work as an activist on this and related issues for women and children's rights.

Legacy and honors


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Trudeau’s expulsion catches Liberal senators by surprise". Globe and Mail. January 29, 2014. Retrieved January 29, 2014. 

External links

  • Senate of Canada—Profile
  • Liberal Senate Forum Profile Page
  • "New Brunswick aboriginal woman named to Senate", CTV
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