Edmonton

Two-spirit cultural knowledge keeper to attend Alberta LGBT2S summer camp

The summer leadership retreat for LGBTQ2S youth has had an elder-in-residence in the past, but for the first time a two-spirit cultural knowledge keeper will attend Camp fYrefly.

Mayor's Pride Brunch raises money to support Camp fYrefly

Knowledge keeper Warren Winnipeg will travel to one of Camp fYrefly's four locations in Edmonton as part a four-day leadership retreat for LGBTQ2S youth in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. (Warren Winnipeg/Facebook)

Young people attending Camp fYrefly will have the support of a two-spirit cultural knowledge keeper at this year's Camp fYrefly.

Knowledge keeper Warren Winnipeg will travel to one of the camp's four locations in Edmonton as part a four-day leadership retreat for LGBTQ2S youth in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

Jeff Chalifoux, co-chair of the Edmonton Two-Spirit Society, felt there was more diversity than ever at Pride events this year.

Ivy League performs at the Mayor's Pride Brunch, a fundraising event for Camp fYrefly. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

"We were given a platform and a presence here and a space to share about ourselves," Chalifoux said. "[We got] to share about our passions. To share about the journey that two-spirit and Indigenous folks have been on."

While definitions vary from territory to territory, two-spirit encompasses Indigenous people who embody both a masculine and feminine spirit. 

Chalifoux says they have a knowledge keeper at Camp fYrefly because many of the youth who attend are Indigenous. He expects having a two-spirit cultural knowledge keeper to have a major impact at the camp. 

"They get this opportunity to go to camp and engage with other [LGBTQ2S] people," Chalifoux said. 

The University of Alberta's Institute of Sexual Minority Studies and Services runs the camp with the Calgary Centre for Sexuality. Evan Westfal, the institute's education coordinator, attended the camp when he was a teenager and said it changed his life.

Jeff Chalifoux, co-chair of the Edmonton Two Spirit Society, is happy Knowledge keeper Warren Winnipeg will be joining Camp fYrefly this year. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

"For me it was the first time in my life I ever got to feel like my identity was normalized," Westfal said.

"So, I didn't have to worry 'Is someone going to care about me being gay?' That was just wildly empowering to feel normalized and welcome with a group of people that not only support me but can completely empathize with who I am as a person."

Westfal said about 50 kids attend the retreats, which are mostly operated by volunteers. He says they have to turn away more kids than they are able to accept. 

The camp operates on a pay-what-you-can model. Campers who can afford it are encouraged to pay up to $300, while others can opt for a $25 registration fee.

Westfal said fundraising events such as the Mayor's Pride Brunch are an important way for the camp to cover costs.

Mayor Don Iveson said Sunday's Pride Brunch at the Edmonton Convention Centre was important since Pride has been different this year.

"The community has also been really thirsty for connection as well," Iveson said. "I really felt that in the room today — with just so much love for the diversity of different identities that we find in our community sexually and with gender — that was really celebrated today.

"Even though the parade manifested differently, the festival spirit and the Pride spirit's alive. It's changing, but it's alive."

Iveson says the community has the full support of the city and he hopes to see the parade and festival resume next year "in full force."

Evan Westfal, education coordinator with the Institute of Sexual Minority Studies and Services, says their goal is to create a safe, welcoming space where youth are free to be their true self. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Clarifications

  • This story as been amended to better reflect Warren Winnipeg's position at Camp fYrefly.
    Jun 19, 2019 8:08 AM MT

About the Author

Tricia Kindleman

Reporter/Producer

Tricia Kindleman has spent her life in Alberta. She grew up in Edmonton and attended Mount Royal College, now university, in Calgary. She has worked in newsrooms in Edmonton and Grande Prairie.