Calgary

Activist says recognition of 2-spirit identity a crucial part of reconciliation conversation

A two-spirit activist met with Calgarians this weekend to talk about what it means to be two-spirit, and discuss the importance of including queer Indigenous voices in the reconciliation process.

'It's part of remembering and reclaiming our place of honour, respect and dignity,' says Harlan Pruden

Harlan Pruden is a two-spirit, Cree activist. (Kate Adach/CBC)

A two-spirit activist met with Calgarians this weekend to talk about what it means to be two-spirit, and discuss the importance of including queer Indigenous voices in the reconciliation process.

Two-spirit is term that encompasses a diverse range of Indigenous people who embody different sexualities and gender expressions.

"Reconciliation, truth and reconciliation, most people think that learning the truth and the history is the work. That's only part of the conversation," said Harlan Pruden, who is Cree. "What the charge and mandate of reconciliation is, is how do we learn this history and how do we not enact or continue privileging ourselves or gaining benefits from that history."

Pruden said before colonization, many First Nations recognized more than two genders, with some, like Siksika, accepting the validity of as many as seven different genders.

In Cree, Pruden said, there are no pronouns for "he" or "she" — people are identified as "it" or "they."

Keith Murray, the affirming coordinator at Hillhurst United Chruch, said it's important to make space for diverse gender identities in communities. (Kate Adach/CBC)

Keith Murray, who is the affirming coordinator at Hillhurst United Church, which hosted Pruden for the series of events, said that fluidity of language is something English speakers could benefit from.

"Wouldn't that be amazing if we can open up our language and learn from Indigenous communities?" Murray said.

"We can try and adapt and evolve our language so we can move forward together."

Some two-spirit people were, historically, afforded special status based on their abilities to connect with both male and female perspectives, according to Egale Canada Human Rights Trust, a LGBTQ2S advocacy non-profit.

The inquiring on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls heard last month that a lack of support for LGBTQ2s Indigenous people continues to put them at risk of harm in Canada.

Pruden said as a two-spirit activist, they're not asking for new rights, but rather recognition of the place gender fluidity has historically had in Indigenous communities.

"It's part of remembering and reclaiming our place of honour, respect and dignity for our two-spirit relatives back with their respective nations," Pruden said. "We have to do that education and then we have to create that supportive environment for people to lean in and have those conversations."

'You are not nothing. You are someone.'

Frankie Williams, who attended one of Pruden's workshops on Saturday, said they've been working to discover their identity as a two-spirit Indigenous person.

Williams said as they grew up in an urban setting and not on a reserve, they felt a certain level of disconnect with their identity and it's something they're only just now trying to explore.

"I think one of the best things I can do is just be myself. I wasn't sure I was on the right track but hearing from Harlan helped me realized, 'you are on the right track. You are not nothing. You are someone," Williams said.

"It's only the beginning. I've got a lot of work."

With files from Kate Adach.