Maria grew up in a Roman Catholic Acadian family in the Evangeline region of PEI. Gender-related roles in her family were rigidly defined. Her father was an educated man who worked as a teacher and her mother worked inside the home, deferring major decisions to her husband because he had more education than she did.
Even as a child, Maria was aware of differential power and social roles; she was a young feminist and activist in her orientation and close observation of inequalities created by gender and social status. In addition to discriminatory practices in the Roman Catholic Church, she saw evidence of inequity in broader cultural arenas, including language and ethnicity: "We always thought we were just small Acadians and didn't have any rights," she said. "In my area, we spoke French at home and at school but the books were in English."