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Ontario Tech acknowledges the lands and people of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.

We are thankful to be welcome on these lands in friendship. The lands we are situated on are covered by the Williams Treaties and are the traditional territory of the Mississaugas, a branch of the greater Anishinaabeg Nation, including Algonquin, Ojibway, Odawa and Pottawatomi. These lands remain home to many Indigenous nations and peoples.

We acknowledge this land out of respect for the Indigenous nations who have cared for Turtle Island, also called North America, from before the arrival of settler peoples until this day. Most importantly, we acknowledge that the history of these lands has been tainted by poor treatment and a lack of friendship with the First Nations who call them home.

This history is something we are all affected by because we are all treaty people in Canada. We all have a shared history to reflect on, and each of us is affected by this history in different ways. Our past defines our present, but if we move forward as friends and allies, then it does not have to define our future.

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My Personal Experiences Being Gay and Indigenous: What is Two-Spirit and Where Does Homophobia and Transphobia Come From in my Community?

November 16, 2021

DISCLAIMER: In this article, I will be using the word ‘Tribe’. I am using this term in a historical context and as an Indigenous person. In North America and many (but not all) other continents this word has fallen out of use and is often considered offensive. Even as an Indigenous person I do not use it unless I’m speaking from a historical sense, and I would like to take this opportunity to remind you that you should also not be using it. 

TRIGGER WARNING: This article has a brief mention of suicide. 

My Introduction to Being Queer

When you’re a kid there are things that you are certain about, things that you just know are right. For me, some of these things that still stand out the most were the fact that the grass is green, and the sky is blue. There were also less generic truths, like the fact that I’m blonde or that I’m Indigenous. 

As you grow up, things become less certain. Sometimes things you thought were true become something you question. Personally, the biggest thing that became an uncertainty was my sexuality. When I was growing up, I was taught that being gay was dirty, and being Indigenous I didn’t want to be perceived as dirty, so it was natural for me to come to the conclusion that I was totally and completely straight. Until I started to question my sexuality. 

Being Queer and Indigenous 

While I was struggling to figure out who I was, I was also struggling to figure out why this very basic part of me was considered bad amongst my People. So, while I was staying up at night, hiding under the covers googling sexualities on Incognito Mode, trying to figure out just what I was, I was also desperately trying to figure out exactly why my People didn’t like people who were gay or identified outside of the gender binary. 

I scoured my parents’ bookshelf on the staircase – the one that’s just on our People, culture, customs, and history – looking for the answers I desperately wanted. When the books didn’t work, I turned to the internet but nothing I searched could get me the answers to my questions. Eventually, I had to give up on this quest I had given myself, for a few years it remained at the back of my mind. When I learned about the existence of Two-Spirit People, I started getting the answers I’d been searching for. 

Understanding Two-Spirit People 

My first introduction to Two-Spirit People was a family member saying, “I think people who say they have two spirits are lying because it’s not possible to have two spirits,” which intrigued me for two reasons; everyone in my family had always said that nothing about the Spirit is certain and we shouldn’t act as if we know anything about it. More intriguing to me was the idea that someone could have two spirits, so I googled it. Initially, I discovered that Two-Spirit is a label for Indigenous people that identify as having two spirits within them – one male and one female. After digging deeper, I discovered that this definition is a very basic (and not all that accurate) version. In actuality, the term Two-Spirit is closer to an umbrella term that can be used as a specific identity or a way to describe all Indigenous people “who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, other gendered, [and] third/fourth gendered individuals” (this definition can be found in this information packet which introduces people to the term). That being said, it is also noted here that “a two-spirit person may be gay but a gay person is not necessarily Two-Spirit”. 

Upon further research, I discovered that Indigenous people have revered Two-Spirit people even before there was a name for it (two-spirit is a term coined in 1990 but there have been records of Two-spirit people dating as far back as the 1800s) and considered them to be gifted. Often Two-spirit people were considered to be the balancing force between the male morning and the female evening–keepers of the balance within a Tribe. Such individuals also held the roles of visionaries, healers, and medicine people all of which are key members of the Tribe and needed in order to keep the Tribe strong and healthy. This was helpful but still didn’t truly answer my questions. It did, however, give me my first lead to finding my answers. 

two-spirit flag

The Role of Colonization in Homophobia and Transphobia within the Indigenous Community

A four panel comic entitled “U-NOOOOOO”. Panel One shows uno player one holding three cards with an arrow pointing to them labelling them as a transphobe. Panel two shows player two also with three cards. Panel three shows the card pulled by player one which says, “Acknowledge hundreds of years of trans and gender diverse history in multiple cultures or draw 25”. The fourth panel shows player one holding twenty-eight cards and player two is asking “WHY?! HOW?!”.

Image from @the_papa_artist on Instagram and used with permission from the artist. 

Knowing about two-spirit people made me even more curious. There are several accounts of queer Indigenous people being honoured in our community yet being shunned within that same community, everything was making less sense to me than it had before. So, I decided to dive even deeper to find the answer. 

Eventually, I discovered that the origins of homophobia and transphobia within the Indigenous community could be traced back to the arrival of Europeans and the forced Christianization of Indigenous peoples. At the start of the colonization of my people, anyone not identifying as cis-gendered and heterosexual was essentially given three options: believably pass as straight and cis, go into hiding, or (as an absolute last resort) take their own life. 

The remaining Indigenous people who identified as queer or outside the gender binary learned to hide in plain sight. This eventually added to our generational trauma and resulted in the shunning of openly queer/transgender Indigenous people. The presence of homophobia and transphobia within the Indigenous community, which remains to this day, can be traced back to European Christian colonizers and every openly queer or transgender Indigenous person (or even Indigenous allies) is one step closer to decolonization. 



By Nyah Flannery-Hill