Updated: Jun 8, 2022
Canadian history does not begin with the arrival of European explorers over 500 years ago; people have been living in the country that we now call Canada for thousands of years.
And while Canada celebrates the decades of protest and action which helped bring about the legalization of same sex marriage in 2005, we often forget one important detail.
Canada has recognized and honoured queerness since time immemorial.
The term "Two-Spirit" originated in Winnipeg, Canada in 1990 during the third annual intertribal Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference. It comes from the Ojibwa words niizh manitoag (two-spirits) and it helped articulate a gender and sexual diversity that had always existed, without a name.
Our Elders tell us of people who were gifted because they carried two spirits: that of male and female. It is told that women engaged in tribal warfare, usually a role of male warriors, and married other women. Men married other men and were artisans, shamans and givers of names. There were up to 5 accepted genders and in almost all cultures they were honoured and revered. Two Spirit people were often the visionaries, the healers and medicine people. They were respected as fundamental components of our ancient culture and societies.
The heart of Two Spirit people was powerful and it needed no name. It just existed.
Today, Two Spirit is used to describe our LGBTQ+ community, who still exist but only in the marginalized spaces. Colonization brought fear and homophobia and as we moved further from our traditional ways, we adopted more and more European prejudice. Two Spirits were commonly forced by government officials, Christian representatives or even their assimilated Native communities to conform to standardized gender roles. Queerness became a deviancy when viewed through the eyes of residential school teachers, missionaries and white traders.
As an Annishinabe woman, I have lived deeply in the disconnect of gender, body and spirituality. The connection to our land, spirituality and sexuality are deeply entwined. As I have found my way back to the rivers and lakes of my childhood, it allowed me the deep connection to feminine energy that affirmed my queerness. I became aware that the pieces of myself that carried shame and fear, were the parts that I lost in the smoke of smudge and fires. As I accepted my Indigenous roots, my queerness became a source of hope and inspiration.
Celebrating Pride and recognizing Indigenous influence is an act of decolonization. As you enjoy the June festivities, take the time to acknowledge that queer acceptance and celebration did not just start at Stonewall, but has existed since time began.
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