I moved to Winnipeg because there is a significant Aboriginal population in this city. I'm not even part Aboriginal; my ancestors were Dutch, Irish, English, and fundamentalist Christians.
I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, which meant that I got to meet people from
many racial and ethnic backgrounds. But it wasn't until I was 16, and at ranger camp in Sioux Lookout, that I met Aboriginal people for the first time. In Southern Ontario, most Aboriginal people live on reserves.
My counsellors at ranger camp introduced us to a nearby First Nations community,
hoping to challenge any of our negative stereotypes. Without recognizing the colonialist implications in my career goal, I decided to become a missionary to Aboriginal people in Northern Ontario.
In university, I met other evangelicals who were particularly interested in the fate
of Aboriginal souls. After spending reading week at a reserve on Manitoulin Island, I told my mom I wanted to drop out of university so I could convert more Aboriginal people to Christianity. My mom recommended that I graduate first.
I took this advice seriously, graduating with not only one degree, but with three.
During those seven years at university, I learned a little more about colonialism, queer
identities, and my complicity in both. I left the church, and began dating both women and men. Then I moved to Winnipeg.
I've been in Winnipeg for three years now, and people still wonder what brought
me here. Lee Maracle writes about racism as a mountain that Native and white people have to climb from different sides. It doesn't make much sense to move to the prairies if you're into mountain climbing. So I usually say that I'm here because of the sun, the artists, the NDP, and the hospitality boasted on every license plate. Which is also true.
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Bowen Smyth is happily paying off three degrees that are still rolled up in their original cardboard tubes. He has been hired to write about the need for arts facilities in Ontario, social innovation in the non-profit sector, and anal sexual health for Manitoba's queer communities. As the drag persona Owen Head, Smyth shared a Winnipeg stage with trans writer and activist Kate Bornstein. He is delighted to have a writers' residency in Winnipeg at the same time as Ivan E. Coyote. Beware of the transgender takeover!
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