May, 2016 / Author:

Overcoming homophobia and racism is a spiritual journey. About 20 years ago, I was part of a group of indigenous gays who headed to South Dakota to attend a Lakota Sundance.

Our presence was facilitated by a Dakota elder from Winnipeg who was a friend and ally. She had ancestral connections to South Dakota and had Sundanced there for many years. It was an honour to accompany her to one of her home fires. In South Dakota, we sat on the side of a hill for four days in 90-degree heat to witness one of the most beautiful and profound spiritual ceremonies held on Turtle Island (North America).

In 1990, at the third annual gathering of native gays and lesbians, Myra Laramee introduced the concept of two-spirit into our circle, and it was quickly adopted by many indigenous queer groups. At the time, linking queerness with spirituality was challenged in many sectors because we were still perceived as abominations in the eyes of the churches. For indig- enous queers, homophobia and transphobia was deeply entrenched in the process of colonization. Catholic, Anglican and other churches were complicit in scooping up thousands of indigenous children from various reserves and isolating them in dormitories where they segregated based on Euro-centric concepts of gender.

The children, as students under the control of churches and Canadian government, were inculcated to adopt Christian religions and deny their own teachings and languages, which would have stabilized their identities in a world adapting to European imperialism and colonization.

Roger Roulette, an Ojibwa language specialist, says in the indigenous world view, it was understood that each new-born child would have a purpose, role and destiny. It is clear that the Indian Residential School era sublimated the identities and spirits of children who were destined to be GLBT-two-spirits. The result is inter-generational trauma within many indigenous families and communi- ties where there is no acknowledgment of two-spirit people as worthy and gifted members of the community. This kind of rejection can lead to a pathological downward spiral that can result in death from addictions, illness or suicide.

In the early 1980s, indigenous queers began to counter this discrimination by joining GLBT human rights campaigns and seek out elders and traditionalists to mentor them in learning aboutindigenous spirituality, culture and teachings. In Winnipeg, the late Barbara Daniels was the first of many teachers who began to host sharing circles and ceremonies with two-spirit people. Over time, we found our own voice and path in determining our place in society and how to share our inherent knowledge and skills with the broader community.

In 2015, two-spirit people were invited to participate in the Spruce Woods Sundance. It may be the first time in more than a century that thedistinct identity and role of two-spirits was publicly acknowledged and a place was made for us at this most sacred of ceremonies. This is an example of decolonization and a demonstration of the strength of cultures who are overcoming the trauma of the past. As the dancers ended their fast and came out of the arbor on the last day of the Sundance, a rain squall blew through the camp and everyone scattered for protection. About 20 minutes later, the sun came out again and we all stood drenched and refreshed. A sense of serenity and peace filled the camp as we celebrated the beginning of a new cycle.

–Albert McLeod is a Status Indian with ancestry from Nisichawaysihk Cree Nation and the community of Norway House. He is one of the directors of the Two- Spirited People of Manitoba in Winnipeg. www.

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