Monday June 19, 2017

What being two-spirit means to Indigenous elder Ma-Nee Chacaby

Ma-Nee Chacaby recounts her life and the hardships she faced throughout in her autobiography, A Two-Spirit Journey.

Ma-Nee Chacaby recounts her life and the hardships she faced throughout in her autobiography, A Two-Spirit Journey. (University of Manitoba/Ruth-Kivilahti)

Listen 11:33

Ma-Nee Chacaby is a two-spirit Ojibwa-Cree elder. She uses the term "two-spirit" to mean she carries both a male and a female spirit inside. Even though two-spirited individuals were important in pre-colonial Indigenous communities, Chacaby received intense backlash when she came out as lesbian over 30 years ago. Her memoir, A Two-Spirit Journey, details those struggles — and how she thrived.

How her grandmother explained it

My grandmother said, you have two spirits in your body, mind, soul and your heart. She says, you're going to have a hard life, a real tough life because of who you are. You're carrying two spirits, and people don't want to understand that. Then she said, way back, seven generations from the time she was a little girl, she had been told that there were two-spirit people that lived among First Nation people and nobody ever made fun of them. They were regarded as special people. They didn't make fun of them that way, she said. Now it's like this because of what we're told we are. We are told we are savages, and we are nobody except if we join the other people.

Hopes for the future

I want to leave something for my kids. My great-granddaughter and my great-grandsons. I want them to know what I was about, what I was made of, what I stood for. Because there is so much violence in the communities up north and around us. I wish more Native women and older women, even the ones that are older than me, could write their story about their life to share it with other people so their kids can grow to understand them and learn from them. We are storytellers. That is our gift. And if they share their real stuff, what really happened in the past, the kids will learn from it. 

Ma-Nee Chacaby's comments have been edited and condensed.