Annual gathering taps historic healing medicine
According to Ojibway tradition, long before Europeans arrived in the Americas, a great gathering of medicine people was held and medicine people were summoned from all regions. They carried their healing medicines with them. At the gathering, the medicines were combined into one “big medicine” and became the most powerful ever seen. Each person returned home with some of this “big medicine” to share with their own people. To remind future generations of this historic gathering, stone circles called petroforms were created across the land. In Ojibway tradition, medicine people can open the stones to release the healing medicine.
In the footsteps of that ancient event, the 22nd International Two Spirit Gathering has been named A Gathering of Medicine Stones. The annual gathering alternates between locations in Canada and the United States. This year, it’s in Manitoba, at the Dr. Jesse Saulteaux Centre near Beausejour. The event is being hosted by The Two Spirit Persons of Manitoba and Kani Kanichik Inc from Sept. 3 –6.
The term “two-spirit” is used to describe Aboriginal people who assume cross- or multiple-gender roles, attributes, dress and attitudes for personal, spiritual, cultural, ceremonial or social reasons. Peetancoot Nenacawacapo, an Ojibway speaking two-spirit man, has attended eight of the 21 previous gatherings. “It’s about meeting old friends, getting out of the city, back to nature – it’s the ceremonies. It’s about being at the site – the surroundings,” he says. “People feel involved, even if they’re shy. They participate, they start growing. It’s a very good experience for our new people.”
The first international gathering of two spirit people took place in Minneapolis in 1988. It took place on the heels of the 1987 march on Washington, D.C., which drew half a million gays and lesbians to call for equal rights. It was hardly coincidental that GRID – Gay Related Immune Disorder – was cutting a deadly swath through North America’s urban gay communities. GRID, later and more accurately called AIDS –kick-started GLBT activism in North America.
When HIV/AIDS was raging through gay communities in Winnipeg and other cities across Turtle Island (the name Aboriginal people use for North America) in the mid-80s, it became impossible for people to avoid the discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation. This was as true for the Aboriginal peoples of Turtle Island as it was for the non-Aboriginal gays of North America.
For two-spirit people, the annual International gathering has become a powerful focus for healing, networking and teaching. Two-spirit people and their friends and relations come together over several days to create a family in a place where they can feel safe and can experience the freedom of being themselves.
About 1998, it was proposed that a “princess” be chosen at each gathering to reign until the following year. Peetanacoot was the fourth princess. “Your responsibility,” he says, “is to promote the next year’s gathering and assist in fundraising, raising awareness and finding sponsors.”
This year’s agenda includes cultural activities, health and wellness sessions, leadership building, anti-homophobia and human rights training, and networking opportunities. A two spirit youth life-skills component and panel session is also included.
There are many opportunities to expand one’s knowledge of traditional ceremonies and practices by participating in the pow wow, sweat lodges and pipe ceremonies. People are also encouraged to tap into their “inner performer” and let it all hang out at the No Talent Nite.
–C.R. Procyk is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer. To comment on this or any other article in Outwords, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org