Article: The two solitudes of two-spirit

 
Many queer aboriginal Canadians juggle different aspects of their identity in order to fit in

Gina Metallic doesn’t think anyone should have to choose between different aspects of their identity in order to fit into the mold of the conventional and socially acceptable.

And, she’s not going to anymore.

“I’m queer,” says Metallic, who is a Mi’gmaq woman originally from Listagouche, Quebec. She is speaking to packed room at Montreal’s Native Friendship Centre. “But, I’m also aboriginal, and these two things are really important to me.”

While Metallic once felt the need to forfeit her aboriginal culture in favour of her sexuality, she has come to realize that there is space for her to embrace both. When addressing both native and non-native people, Metallic identifies as two-spirit.

Depending who you ask, the term can be defined and interpreted in a variety of ways. Generally, two-spirit people have long been considered integral to indigenous society — and often held healing and teaching roles within their communities. These roles differ greatly between aboriginal nations, and have been diversely affected by colonization over time.

Metallic says the term two-spirit expresses that she is part of a sexual minority, being lesbian, while also implying that she belongs to an indigenous community.

“The western world uses the word ‘queer’ as an umbrella term to encompass all of the little labels that people either choose to take or not, which is what I think two-spirited is — it’s like our umbrella term,” she says, adding that the term ought to be used exclusively by aboriginal people, and does not belong to anyone else.

Metallic only recently began embracing a two-spirit identity, and hadn’t even heard of the term until she moved to Montreal in 2005.

Since then, she’s received an MA in social work from McGill University, with her thesis focusing on two-spirit identity development — an experience that has been enlightening, both personally and professionally.

“Growing up in a normal community I wasn’t exposed to too much,” Metallic says. “We didn’t really talk about gay people or gay things.” She says her move to the city opened her eyes to a new, diverse array of people, and offered her a potential to explore options no longer limited to heterosexuality.

But, the move didn’t come without cost.

“When I started to go to the gay village in Montreal, I actually lost my culture,” she says. “I felt like there was so much racism in the gay community, so there was a need to reject my culture.”

Metallic says that through her own extensive research, she’s realized that her experience of feeling the need to choose one or the other —“full lesbian or aboriginal” — was not uncommon amongst two-spirit people.While she felt like she couldn’t completely be herself in the city, she also experienced a similar phenomenon when returning to the reserve.

“I think there is more homophobia in communities that are located in more rural areas,” she says. “They aren’t as exposed to as many different types of people.”

Metallic says that while her maternal family embraced her “two-spiritedness,” her paternal side hasn’t really spoken to her since she came out.

Akwiratékha Martin is a language teacher from the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, located just south of Montreal.  He also identifies as two-spirit, but his family and community are extremely accepting of his identity. “I got very lucky with my surroundings and my people,” he says. For Martin, though, his experience in the city wasn’t as easy.

“I didn’t fit in, it was really hard, because they didn’t understand different aspects of my culture, I felt I had to explain myself all the time.”

Martin believes that it is extremely important to participate in one’s community, whether it happens to be located on a reserve or in the city.

“That’s what two-spirited is about, it’s about giving back to the community, and contributing to it,” he says. “Not to just be gay or be lesbian, but to do your own thing — for me, my role was learning and teaching my language.”

He says that as a two-spirit person it is important to be open to dialogue, and be responsive to people’s curiosity, even when it may come off as ignorant.

Metallic agrees, and she is adamant that improving education will certainly ease the current struggles faced by two-spirit people. “In the schools this is still very taboo,” she says, pointing to a lack of literature and resources available on the subject of two-spiritedness, a void that she believes is perpetuating the silence around it. “We need more resources, to build a community, to hold events — we need to have a spot in the pride parades, and we need an organization.”

Metallic thinks Montreal is lagging behind cities like Toronto in terms of available material and community groups. “Until those things are really set in place, I think people will continue to experience that duality of choosing between the queer lifestyle and the aboriginal lifestyle, without realizing that you can actually have both.”

The difficulty of juggling and potentially dropping different aspects of one’s identity isn’t a struggle faced exclusively by two-spirit people, but it is a challenge that stands to affect anyone belonging to a minority.

“Each one of us has many identities that we try to manage in our lives,” says Amal Elsana Alh’jooj, a scholar and activist. “’I’m a mother, I’m a woman, I’m Palestinian, I’m Bedouin, I’m Israeli and I’m a feminist.”

Those don’t all work harmoniously together, she says, noting that in order to be accepted in society, something — or in her case, multiple things — had to give.

“People who are oppressed, for the sake of the oppressor, need to be one thing, when we become more than one thing it becomes a challenge for them,” Alh’jooj says.

She came to Montreal’s Native Friendship to see how the aboriginal population had dealt with this issue, as it was one that has similarly affected her and many others in her home community. “So many people that I know have given up,” she says. “I wanted to see how these people have dealt with facing a national challenge, being aboriginal, but also personal challenge in terms of their sexual orientation.”

The answer, vocalized repeatedly at the centre, is a need for open-minded dialogue and more education.

Metallic is doing her part in paving the way, be being vocal about her identity, both on and off reserve. She was named 2013 role model in her community, and her two-spirit identity was proudly plastered around on posters in town. “If people are uncomfortable with it, that’s their issue,” she says.  “I’m not going to continue to hide myself, there is nothing to be ashamed about.”

Article: The two solitudes of two-spirit

Poem: Idle No More, Youth

Idle No More,
Youth voice,
Youth power,
Youth visibility,
Youth speaking,
Youth listened to,
Youth honored,
Youth uplifted,

Writing,
Drawing,
Sketching,
Doodling,
Dreaming,
Attaining,
Scheming,
Believing,
Realizing,
Achieving,

Dynamic processes,
Achieved,
Through,
The hands,
Heart,
Feet,

Dance,
Sing,
Shout,

Be proud of your culture,
Regalia,
T-shirt,
Native pride,
Show up,
Howeva you wanna be,

Dive,
Deviate,
Retrofit the ill formatted system,

Cut,
Divide,
Shred,
The parts of the system,
That don't fit with decolonizing youth,

Celebrate,
Rejoice,
Empower,
As you build,
Rebuild,
Renew,

Soil,
Touch,
Silence,

Earth,
Peace,
Ancestors,

Sky,
Expansiveness,
Spirit,

Water,
Grandmothers,
Healing,

Idle No More,
Rising,
Standing,
Beautiful,

Idle No More,
Youth,
Voice,
Seventh generation,

Idle No More,
Youth,
Community,
Fierce!

Online book - Honouring Indigenous Women: Heart of Nations Vol .2

My poems - The Healing of the Women of Our Nations and Shkakaamik Kwe are included in this awesome book.  My poem And If We Cry was included in volume 1.


Following the success of Honouring Indigenous Women: Hearts of Nations Vol.1, published earlier this year, the Indigenous Peoples’ Solidarity Movement Ottawa (IPSMO) has now launched the second volume!

Sixty-two women and men from various nations contributed to this book. Indigenous women shared their lived experiences with regards to their relationships with the land, their birth mothers, families, communities, and themselves. Their Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies shared their thoughts on responsibilities to (re)build relationships with Indigenous women.

We are very grateful for the authors and artists who courageously shared their stories with us, and are honoured to publish their work. A list of our contributors is provided below.

We also would like to express our gratitude to Under One Roof Properties who generously donated us the layout by Nancy Reid from NR Grafix.

Download the book here: Honouring Indigenous Women: Hearts of Nations Vol.2 (117-page PDF format, free of charge)

We are now looking for funds to print it in preparation for our book launch and to offer our contributors paper copies of the book in early 2013. We plan to have this book available for individual purchases, in local libraries and community resource centers, and for use as part of school curricula.

If you would like to help us with distribution, please us at ipsmo@riseup.net.

To make a donation to the campaign, please click this PayPal link or make a cheque to ‘Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement Ottawa’ with ‘HIW-Vol.2′ in the memo line. Cheques can be mailed to: IPSMO, c/o OPIRG-Carleton, 326 Unicentre, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON, K1S 5B6.

The contributors featured in the book are:

Adelle Farrely, Angela Ashawawasegai, Angela Mashford-Pringle, Arlene Bowman, Belinda Daniels, Carrie Bourassa, Catherine M. Pulkinen, Catherine McCarty, Cecelia LaPointe, Cristina Afán Lai, Dawn Karima Pettigrew, Deanna StandingCloud, Donna Roberta Della-Picca, Dvorah Coughlin, Emilie Corbiere, Eva Apuk Jij, Faith Turner, Francine Burning, Greg Macdougall, Heather Shillinglaw, Helen Knott, Janet Marie Rogers, Janine Manning, Jodie-Lynn Waddilove, Lana Whiskeyjack, Leanne Simpson, Lesley Belleau, Linda Lucero, Lisa M. Machell, Lorri Neilsen GlennLouise Vien, Lynn Gehl, Marcie Riel, Margaret Kress-White, Mariel Belanger, Mikhelle Lynn Rossmulkey, Miranda Moore, Mona-Lisa Bourque-Bearskin, Nehi Katawasisiw, Nicole McGrath, PJ Prudat, R. Saya Bobick, Raven Sinclair, Robert A. Horton, Rosie Trakostanec, Samantha Elijah, Shauneen Pete, Simone Nichol, Susan Smith Fedorko, Tamara Pokrupa-Nahanni, Tamara Starblanket Neyihaw, Teresa Rose Beaulieu, Theresa Meuse, Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy, Yolanda Teresa Philgreen and Zainab Amadahy.

For more info: www.ipsmo.org

Article: A Racially Discriminating Society

During the fossil-fueled extravaganza after World War II, Indian tribes in the United States were still recovering from the traumas of colonization; coerced displacement, religious conversion, and the brutal abuse of their children in state-supported, church-run Indian boarding schools was still contributing to their social, cultural and political dysfunction. Not until the 1970s did tribal communities and Indian nations across America recover sufficiently from their ordeals to begin to assert themselves in reclaiming their identities as indigenous peoples and dignity as human beings.

By the 1990s, the concept of applying the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights to indigenous peoples began to take hold. Still, it would take until September 2007 before international law would extend human rights to indigenous nations. Even then, four members of the UN opposed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Not until 2010 would the US grudgingly and partially endorse the principles of UNDRIP.

Today, as modern states and indigenous nations engage in conflict and negotiation over the implementation of indigenous human rights, many states pay these rights lip service while neglecting to observe them in practice. Witness the hundreds of confrontations worldwide where indigenous peoples' properties and resources are trampled on by insatiable corporations and corrupted states. Even the UN itself -- in the form of its conferences on climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development -- excludes and marginalizes indigenous governing authorities, relegating indigenous delegates to the status of powerless observers.

With the resurgence of fossil-fueled extravagance and the reemergence of indigenous nations challenging the power of the state on all continents, civil society has found a new role for itself in both defending democracy and honoring humanity. With the recovered memory of the malign neglect of indigenous peoples by institutions and markets over the five centuries of European colonies and successor states in the Americas, human rights activists have both an opportunity and an obligation to force their dominant societies to make amends. Pretending we can have meaningful reconciliation without cultural restoration is just wishful thinking.

Conditioning the extension of human rights to indigenous peoples on their acceptance of assimilation into European forms of governance, religion and economics is moral fraud. Asking indigenous nations to forfeit their rights to self-determination, cultural preservation and religious freedom as the terms of their right to exist is perhaps the worst form of self-serving hypocrisy invented by a racially discriminating society. But then, what would you expect from a people whose entire social architecture was founded on genocide?

Original article posted on Intercontinental Cry

Poem: Lord Hear Our Prayer

Lord hear our prayer,
The drone of the organ in the church,

Lord hear our prayer,
The young Native girl prays,
In her closet,
In her home,
For healing,
She is crying,
For love,
No one can see her,
Hear her,

Lord hear our prayer,
Silent prayers,
Bounce off of walls,
Flicker,
Disintegrate into plaster breaking,
Falling,
Crumbling,
Onto hardwood floors,
Dissolving prayers between the cracks,

Lord hear our prayer,
Recite,
Recite,
Recite,

Lord hear our prayer,
Young Native boy,
Black hair,
Cut,
Combed,
Identity cut,
The patriarchy destroys a sensitive soul,
Who reaches for femininity in his identity,
But he can't be himself fully,
In a patriarchal culture,

Lord hear our prayer,
Inside the church walls,
Injustice,
Equality,
Outside of the church walls,
Inside the church walls,

Lord hear our prayer,
Inside the home,
Crying young girl,
Crying young boy,

Lord hear our prayer,
Paperwork,
Institutions,
Structures,
Deviations,

Our prayers are silenced,
Our prayers are blocked,
Our prayers are ignored.