Indigenous Perspectives Society

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What if everything that was yours was taken from you?

orange shirt day

When I first heard of residential schools I thought they were like the boarding schools I had seen in movies, television shows, or had read about in books. I imagined that children went to these schools because their parents were not able to care for them while they worked long hours, or dreamed of offering them a better future. I imagined that some of these children came from single parent families, or were orphans, and that maybe being at a boarding school was safer than making their way on their own in the world. These beliefs were reinforced by friends I made growing up, whose experiences were not unlike what I had imagined, although, even their stories often had dark elements that were heartbreaking to hear.

I didn’t truly understand the differences of the residential school experience until love brought me into a family that had survived it. As we got to know each other during family dinners, holiday gatherings and coffee chats in the kitchen, stories were shared as a way for us to understand each other, to appreciate where we were on our paths, and feel pride over the obstacles we had overcome. My husband’s mother, her sister, and brothers had attended residential school along with many of their extended family. Fashionable and cool kids, the impact of having to wear uniforms that homogenized their identity left its imprint on their sense of self-worth. I was shocked to hear that the uniforms they were issued were not even theirs. On laundry day all the clothes were washed and then redistributed. You were lucky to get something that fit properly. Nothing was yours, not even your underwear.

I attended a catholic school from grade three through grade seven and I had to wear a uniform. My mom thought it was a great idea because we didn’t have much money and it saved her from having to buy very many clothes. I remember defiantly wearing red shoes and stacking Mexican silver bracelets my grandmother had sent me on my arms. I had that freedom.

Orange Shirt DayWhile I am not part of that family anymore, each one of them still lives in my heart, and I am forever changed in my understanding of what is means to be Canadian and the impact of how we arrived here.

Orange Shirt Day gives us the opportunity to learn about the legacy of our collective history and continue the discussion of what each of us needs to do to help reconciliation as we build our future together.

The Orange Shirt Day – Every Child Matters campaign grew out of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad’s story of having her shiny new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school at St. Joseph Mission residential school, you can read more about her story here

About the Author

Alesha Doran is the Business Development Coordinator for the Indigenous Perspectives Society –Creating Excellence through Training and Leadership. A non-indigenous ally, Alesha was born and raised in Secwepemc territory and now enjoys life in Lkwungen territory on southern Vancouver Island. For more information on Cultural Perspectives Training email her at and visit

posted in Blog

The importance of story-telling

IPS has had the pleasure of working with two co-op students for the past 4 months. There has been a lot of shared learning and we are pleased to post some words from Heather Jenkins, one of our students about her experiences here at the Society.

By Heather Jenkins

It’s been said that there are stories everywhere; we just have to hear them. I’ve found that surprisingly true. Often when you really listen, the everyday stories people tell are really interesting, complex tales of human nature and relationships. Most blockbuster documentaries like 20 Feet from Stardom and Hoop Dreams are simple stories of ordinary people leading lives just like ours, even though their stakes seem so much larger. But they aren’t, not really.

There are stories everywhere here at the Indigenous Perspectives Society too; sometimes it’s Elders or community leaders or even my coworkers. My time here has been an amazing opportunity to hear and share the stories of those who wish to tell them. As part of the media team I have filmed and edited several interviews, all where exceptional. But there have been a few stories that resonated with me, hopefully well into the future.

During one of my first interviews a mother told me about her adopted child. One day this child proudly declared themselves to be the luckiest child in the world: Why? They had both a ‘tummy mummy’ and an adopted mom, they knew they were loved and cherished by both, so they knew also that their love had grown during adoption. They knew that for them love would never shrunk, only grow.

During another interview I learned how a man came to realize that violence would destroy his life. So he began the quest of his lifetime, aiding others so that they could also see that violence was destroying their lives. During this journey the man collected several degrees and a lifetime of colourful stories.

As a writer, filmmaker, anthropologist, student, and human being, I firmly believe that listening is a skill which we are never done mastering. There is always more to learn and further to grow. This belief compels me in my desire is to share stories with as many as possible, to use my knowledge and skills to let storytellers reach a wider audience so that others can continue to grow and learn as I hope to do. It is my wish that working with the society will help me become the storyteller I want to be.

It’s an honour to hear everyone’s story, and it’s an honour to use my filmmaking skills to share these stories with a larger audience.

A Participants Perspective of Adoption Online

Since 2008 Indigenous Perspectives Society has trained over 390 participants in the Adoption Online Course, also known as AOL. This is a an 8 week program delivered online, requiring 3-5 hours of work per week.

One of the participants, Ali Jayne, wrote a review on her blog to share with everyone her firsthand experience of the course, and her thoughts are well worth a read:

“This course run by the Indigenous Perspectives Society is one I have recommended again and again to families who are either thinking about adoption or have adopted. And yet, I realised I have never posted a review about it…” To read the rest of her review check out the full post here:

If you would like to know more about the AOL program see our course page for more information and registration.

All My Relations – Supporting Two Spirit Youth

Part of our approach in training those who work with Indigenous children and families is to foster an understanding of intersectionality – that an individual can have several intersecting identities by which they perceive themselves, which guide their values and actions, and that also affect the way they are perceived and treated by others. For an Indigenous person whose gender or sexuality is non-conforming, the reality is that they may experience multiple layers of prejudice and oppression and may encounter more obstacles in developing a strong sense of identity and belonging.

We know that historically, this wasn’t the case. Before colonization, those whom we now call ‘two spirit’ people were commonly esteemed members of their communities, as visionaries, wise people, and leaders. Among the many impacts of residential school, the identity became stigmatized and the teachings around its roles and importance were hushed. In the past few decades, however, an International resurgence has brought about reclamation of traditional names and roles and organizing on scales large and small for community support and shared learning. For two spirit people reclaiming their identity, as two spirit scholar Alex Wilson suggests, they are not “coming out”, but “coming in” – coming back into their roles, and back into the circle of belonging.

It was in this spirit that in 2013 Indigenous Perspectives Society joined together with four Indigenous Family and Community Service organizations to participate in the Pride Parade with the theme: All My Relations – Support Our Two Spirit Youth, End Bullying. We were the first Indigenous Collective to march in Victoria’s Pride Parade, and with 60 strong, we drummed and sang at the front of the parade. This year we march again with two new groups joining us; now we are the staff, friends, family, and children of Indigenous Perspectives Society, a Victoria Two Spirit Group, NIL/TU,O Child and Family Services, Hulitan Family and Community Services, Victoria Native Friendship Centre, Island Métis Community Services, and Surrounded By Cedar Child and Family Services. On July 6th, we will march for the strength of spirit for some of our most vulnerable children and youth, and we form part of their circle of belonging that lifts them up.

Indigenous Perspectives Society holds workshops on two spirit: the history, resurgence, and how to create respectful and welcoming spaces. Learn more here: .

We’re pleased to also present an article entitled Two-spirit: Beyond sex and gender, for which two of our staff were interviewed, also featuring Indigenous Perspectives Society’s participation in Victoria Pride.

Two-spirit: Beyond sex and gender

Written by Jillian Wedel and originally published April 2, 2014 by Nexus Newspaper. Reproduced with Permission.

LGBT: it’s an arrangement of letters that many of us have seen before, but for those who are unfamiliar with it, the acronym stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. As an acronym adopted by what was formerly known simply as the gay community, its purpose has been to acknowledge and highlight the diversity within this self-actualizing community. Since the 1990s, the number of letters has steadily increased and now includes, but is not limited to, LGBTQQIP2SAA. The “2S,” which stands for two-spirit, is a relatively new term; however, its cultural significance and traditional roots reach far back into history, long before the construction of what some have nicknamed the “gay alphabet.”

I first started using the term two-spirit about four years ago while delivering presentations in high schools on issues surrounding the queer community. The program, called Out in Schools, included statistics on the health and safety of queer youth, a timeline that covered the history of gay rights in Canada, a colour-coded map highlighting countries who had legalized same-sex marriage, and a slide that broke down some of the terminology.

At this point, I would go through and explain the word behind each letter of the ever-expanding list of identities to the students. But when it came to two-spirit, I was aware that as a non-Aboriginal person, my knowledge in this area was lacking some important dimensions. While knowing I had much to learn, I handed out the information I had acquired up until then: “Two-spirit is a term derived from First Nations languages,” I would say, “and is used to describe individuals who embody both the masculine and feminine spirit…”

Following my brief summary, a common question that was often asked by students was whether two-spirit referred to a gender identity or a sexual orientation. In my subsequent pursuit of gaining a more full understanding of the term, I came to realize that questions like these actually pushed the meaning of two-spirit further away by imposing upon it structures of thought belonging to the dominant culture; structures including gender and sexuality.

“Those categories are themselves a western construct,” says Dr. Sarah Hunt, a Kwakwaka’wakw writer and activist who teaches in the Indigenous Studies and Community Family and Child Services Program at Camosun College.

Hunt, who identifies as two-spirit, explains how western distinctions like gender and sexuality were preceded by a variety of traditional roles that went beyond orientations of sex and gender; these were roles that were cultivated and fully integrated into the many facets of a community.

“In indigenous cultures, who you are and your role in the community… we now think of those maybe as gender roles,” Hunt says, “but I think, historically, each indigenous nation had their own way of talking about roles and identity that are not necessarily linked with biology but maybe with your connection to the spirit world, or your name, or your role in the community, your inclinations as a child, and that forms how your identity is viewed.”

The term two-spirit, according to Hunt, captures much more than whom you’re attracted to or what pronoun you identify with. She describes being two-spirit as “not just about being gay, or being bi, or trans, necessarily; it’s a term that is both about cultural identity and sexual or gender identity. It’s a term,” she says, “that in some ways defies those colonial categories.”

Emerging in 1990 at the third annual Native American Gay and Lesbian conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the concept of two-spirit was taken up in order to help liberate and mobilize a community whose traditions had been brutalized by the language and ideologies that colonization brought with it.

“Two-spirit,” says Hunt, “was a term that a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and queer indigenous folks came up with to replace the term ‘berdache.’”

Originally introduced by French settlers, berdache was an anthropological term used to describe indigenous people who were considered to be homosexual, or those who appeared to participate in mixed gender roles. Though First Nations people eventually adopted the term, the actual meaning behind it translates to “captive, prisoner, or slave.” Hence the need for a new and more accurate term originating from indigenous people themselves.

While the name two-spirit carries with it the potential to empower and unite Aboriginal queers, it’s important to realize that it’s an umbrella term and covers a rich variety of identities that embody particular roles and responsibilities unique to specific First Nations communities.

“Indigenous cultures have had, and still have, culturally specific ways of seeing gender and sexuality, but through colonization, a lot of the language around these cultural practices has been lost,” reveals Hunt.

Due to this loss of language, reclamation has become integral to the revitalization of these traditional ways of being. Communities, each with their own unique history, have been faced with the challenge of resisting the various forms of colonial power in the process of resurging their own two-spirit traditions. Many of the Nations, however, continue to struggle with this task.

Hunt elaborates on this by pointing out that “in some communities they might not have lost much of that knowledge.” She goes on to suggest that “maybe there’s a very strong respect for two-spirit people and their role in cultural, social, and ceremonial practices. On the other hand,” she says, “there are also communities where there’s no acknowledgement, where it’s not safe to be yourself if you’re two-spirit.”

Sadly, the marginalization of the two-spirit community is a reality, and one that is reflected in statistics: Aboriginal gay youth are at much higher risk for committing suicide than non-Aboriginal gay youth.

Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour, who comes from the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc (Kamloops Indian Band), is completing his master of social work at the University of Toronto specializing in social justice and diversity. He is also a board member for the 2Spirit of the First Nations of Toronto.

When asked what advice he would give to a young person who feels they might be two-spirit, McNeil-Seymour says he “would help them locate their traditional roles and responsibilities and the word attached to their cultural location.”

McNeil-Seymour says that recognizing the relationship that two-spirit people have to their traditional territory sets them apart from the dominant LGBT acronym which McNeil-Seymour describes as “incredibly hegemonic.”

“Two-spirit,” claims McNeil-Seymour, “has become colonized to a degree, because I look at how it’s constructed in my community, and generally, with a lot of family back home in Kamloops, It’s just like, ‘Oh, well two-spirit is just a way to identify Aboriginal people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual.’”

Needless to say, upholding two-spirit traditions has been a continuous effort, as McNeil-Seymour asserts that the influence of the LGBT acronym “runs the risk of overriding and rewriting our ways of knowing our relationships to community, spirituality, and the land.”

When asked if he identifies as two-spirit, McNeil-Seymour says “as an entry point, yes; but as my cultural location, no. At this time, with a number of emergent two-spirit youth, a majority of activists are moving back towards locating and discovering the specific term within their community.”

Prior to colonization, two-spirit individuals had been described in the languages of over 100 tribes throughout North America. For McNeil-Seymour, the term he uses is chakwoya’heis, which he says “is a Secwepemc’stin word for a person who has sex with the same sex.” He explains that one of their roles and responsibilities in community is “yucamin’min, which means to protect the earth and to protect the people.”

McNeil-Seymour, like many other individuals who fall under the two-spirit umbrella, are still in the process of gathering together and resurrecting these once highly revered positions within their communities.

“I wish for two-spirit people to move back into their traditional spaces of seers and visionaries and warriors and mediators,” says McNeil-Seymour, “to reclaim those titles.”

For those wondering how to be an ally to the two-spirit community, both Hunt and McNeil-Seymour express the importance of being aware of the traditional lands you live on and how you came to be there. Understanding that two-spirit issues are indigenous issues and indigenous issues are issues of decolonization is an essential part of supporting two-spirit people, says Hunt.

Ultimately, being an ally requires building relationships and educating yourself according to both Hunt and McNeil-Seymour. Fortunately, there are more and more events and gatherings providing people with the opportunity to do that.

In November of last year, Camosun Pride and the First Nations Student Association invited the Indigenous Perspectives Society (formerly Caring for First Nations Children Society) to deliver a workshop on Lansdowne campus entitled “The two-spirit Identity: exploring tradition and resurging communities.” The event, which was welcome to all, provided a brief overview of the history of two-spirit traditions and also invited participants to share in traditional drumming and song.

One of the facilitators that day was T’oila McIntyre, a two-spirit woman of Cree decent, who is an instructor at the Indigenous Perspectives Society. McIntyre says the workshop was “more or less kind of a two-spirit 101 just to introduce the concept, because I think that, just like myself who thought that it was just a really cool term that we could adopt, there are a lot of traditional teachings behind it.”

McIntyre has been on a life-changing journey ever since the realization of her own two-spirit identity. “Just within the last four or five years,” explains McIntyre, “the real meaning behind two-spirit has been introduced to me.”

McIntyre says that discovering this part of her identity has been a deeply meaningful process involving many epiphanies along the way. “It’s still a very new journey for me,” she says, “but it’s becoming clearer as I go along, as I get older, the more people that I get involved with, and my personal relationships, and right now I feel like a big part of it is educating.”

Also involved in the workshop was Kelly Legge, a non-Aboriginal queer woman who works as a policy analyst for the Indigenous Perspectives Society. Legge also does research and curriculum development for the society’s trainings and participated in designing the curriculum delivered in the two-spirit workshop.

Legge became active in two-spirit advocacy work when she noticed the lack of presence of the two-spirit community and indigenous organizations at Victoria Pride in years past. “I mentioned to my organization’s executive director that it could be something that the society would consider getting involved with,” says Legge.

Coordinating with five other Aboriginal organizations, Legge helped orchestrate the Indigenous Perspectives Society’s very first participation in Victoria Pride last year, and it was one that couldn’t be missed: adorned in bright pink shirts that read “All My Relations: support our two spirited youth and end bullying,” the larger-than-life group marched at the head of the parade singing and drumming through the streets of downtown Victoria.

Legge says it’s the queer community’s responsibility to recognize its own diversity and to be a safe space honouring the “unique individual and cultural identities of our greater community, whether you are gay or lesbian or transgender or two-spirit.”

“Part of that safety is for us to appreciate that the term ‘two-spirit’ is a cultural and spirit name in its origins, and its intention was to shirk colonial definition,” she says.

Legge notes that it is important for non-indigenous people to recognize and respect the decolonizing efforts that are behind the term two-spirit and to avoid claiming it for themselves. “It would be problematic for me, for example, to appropriate a term that is holding a place while First Nations resurge and reclaim their own language and traditions,” she says.

The recognition of diversity that Legge speaks of is what continues to be a source of growth for the LGBT acronym. And while new terms are added and the letters multiply, it’s important to remember that our own social and cultural locations can blind us to the identities that require a reading that’s between the lines.

As Camosun’s Hunt points out, the influence our words and categorizations have on the way we perceive things should encourage us “to really think about the limitations of the English language.” Taking this into account, the recognition of our diverse identities shouldn’t only be through the letters of an acronym, but through the understanding of our diverse histories, cultures, and ways of viewing the world around us.

Gathering Our History

The Indigenous Perspectives Society, formerly Caring for First Nations Children Society, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. We chose to commemorate it by looking back at the history of our organization.

On July 15th, 2013, eight founding board members of the Caring for First Nations Children Society came together for a special forum in West Vancouver to share their collective story. Thirty-one years earlier, these eight individuals with synonymous concern, passion, and determination collaborated together and fought to give voice to the First Nations children and families in British Columbia. Their names are Warner Adams, Maurice Squires, Deanna George, Debbie Foxcroft, Gloria Wilson, Ken Clement, Steve Kosey, and Elsie Paul.

Historically, the Ministry of Children and Family Development were mainly in control of child and family welfare in First Nations communities. In addition to little support, the communities, who had already experienced the loss of their children to the residential schools and mass removals of their children, to be adopted out, were still losing their children to the ministry. The communities themselves were did not feel that they had a voice in the system. There was a clear lack of Indigenization in both policy and practice.

Common Concerns
Elders within the First Nations communities grew concerned; there had been too many Aboriginal children being taken away from their own homes and communities. This concern was also shared by the community social workers. The community social workers, however, at the time did not have the proper qualifications or education, thus training with an Aboriginal approach was needed. In addition, a strong policy change would assure Aboriginal people in the province have a greater stake at planning for their own children and families. History has shown that cultural awareness to child welfare is the key component to insuring the success of Aboriginal people in care. There was not a cohesive organization, society, nor a non-profit in the province that had tried this approach before.

The Path
There was a group of social workers that would get together during conferences. These social workers would discuss their common concerns, issues, and practices at First Nations level. Finally, they determined “We really need to have an association that we can come together and work on these common issues. We need to have collaboration and support with each other”. That was the first step in the right direction to creating the Caring for First Nations Children Society.

Debbie Foxcroft, the past president of the Board of Directors set out on a journey of research and learning. She travelled across provinces to Manitoba and New Brunswick—provinces that had their own First Nations child welfare. She was on the journey equipped with questions such as how did they get to where they are and what would they do differently. The goal is to do something different than what the Province of British Columbia was offering. The goals at the time were to be recognized as equals: ministry social workers and First Nations social workers; to become a vehicle for training, policy and funding issues; and of course, to ensure that the children are not removed from their families, communities, and their cultures. The key was to involve the Aboriginal peoples. Rather than prescribing services, communities would build the services needed to keep the children at home; asking questions like “What kind of services will help you most?”

Starting with one Aboriginal agency in the 1980’s and growing to the current twenty-four delegated Aboriginal agencies, Caring for First Nations Children Society has been providing social work training that is uniquely rooted in Aboriginal cultures and communities.

Becoming the Indigenous Perspectives Society
After 20 years of providing support and professional development, the political climate changed while training needs grew. In response, Caring for First Nations Children Society decided to expand its mandate and develop a new complement of trainings for communities, as well as public and private sectors.

To correspond to a changing mandate, it was time to change the name as well. Caring for First Nations Children Society became Indigenous Perspectives Society: creating excellence through training and leadership.

The Indigenous Perspectives Society will continue to offer training programs that will help foster a deeper understanding of Indigenous perspectives and cultural differences, and to help build successful partnerships and relationship with Indigenous communities and government partners.

To hear our founding members reflect on their work, watch CFNCS to IPS: Gathering Our History