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: https://ipsociety.ca/training/workshops/two-spirit-workshop/ .
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.”
THE ORIGINS OF “TWO-SPIRIT”
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.”
SUPPORTING THE TWO-SPIRIT COMMUNITY
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.
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.
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.
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
CFNCS Changes its Name, CARF Three-Year Accreditation, Creating Excellence
The Indigenous Perspectives Society, formerly known as the Caring for First Nations Children Society, has recently undergone a few milestone achievements for its 20th year as a non-profit Society. Among rebranding the organization we have received recognition for achieving the maximum level of accreditation possible with CARF. For more information check out our latest Media Release to get the details.
CARF International announced that the Indigenous Perspectives Society has been accredited for a period of three years for its Aboriginal Social Work Training Program. This is the first accreditation that the international accrediting body has awarded to the Indigenous Perspectives Society.
This accreditation decision represents the highest level of accreditation that can be awarded to an organization and shows the organization’s substantial conformance to the CARF standards. An organization receiving a Three-Year Accreditation has put itself through a rigorous peer review process and has demonstrated to a team of surveyors during an on-site visit that its programs and services are measurable, accountable, and of the highest quality.
Linda Lucas, Executive Director said how honoured the Society is to become the sixth Indigenous organization in Canada to receive CARF accreditation. CARF is an independent, nonprofit accrediting body whose mission is to promote the quality, value, and optimal outcomes of services through a consultative accreditation process that centers on enhancing the lives of the persons served. Founded in 1966 as the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, and now known as CARF International, the accrediting body establishes consumer-focused standards to help organizations measure and improve the quality of their programs and services. For more information about the accreditation process, please visit the CARF website at www.carf.org.
The Indigenous Perspectives Society is now offering a one day course that is perfect for organizations who are wanting to provide their staff the knowledge and training to be able to employ culturally safe communication and pursue relationship-building opportunities using culturally appropriate practices.
1-Day Cultural Perspectives Training
- Apply knowledge of the continued impacts of colonization when working with Indigenous peoples
- Employ culturally safe communication
- Regularly pursue relationship-building opportunities using culturally appropriate practices
- Identify social location and the role of the Indigenous ally
Depends on number of participants please contact us for a quote.