'Change has begun,' two-spirit Métis elder says on Transgender Day of Visibility
'I believe humanity will open its eyes and realize that Creator made us who we are,' says Charlotte Nolin
This First Person column is the experience of Charlotte Nolin, a two-spirit Métis elder from Manitoba, and was written to mark the International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
As a Tastawiniyew (two-spirit) Otipemisiwak (Métis) trans woman, I am a survivor of the infamous Sixties Scoop, Indian day school and a myriad of experiences that most individuals would cringe at.
Being a former drug addict (heroin and meth), I've experienced racism, homophobia, transphobia and a variety of violence.
While in my addiction when I was younger, I suffered at the hands of society and rather than ending up dead, I went back in the closet. During 40 plus years, I lived as my former male self to appease society and its view toward individuals who were born different.
In June 1972, I attempted to end my life.
Spending seven hours on the operating table, the doctors had given up hope that I would survive and told the family to prepare themselves. Creator had other plans for me and so I was given the opportunity to change my life.
Back in the closet
Unfortunately, I returned to my addictions until 1974, after having suffered through numerous episodes of violence attached to addictions and the sex trade, I made the decision to return to the "closet."
I got married (three times) and became a parent to seven children, which led to eight grandchildren.
My life took me to employment in the construction trades and later, at the age of 40, I changed careers into the field of social work. I devoted my life to protecting children and Indigenous families.
We were here hundreds of years ago and we are still here.- Charlotte Nolin
I also found myself, at the age of 40, in regards to my Indigenous identity. I knew that I was of Métis ancestry but knew nothing else about myself.
While in the process of entering the field of social services, I was brought into the world of Indigenous spirituality and soon found myself embedded into the numerous ceremonies and teachings surrounding the spiritual traditions of First Nations peoples. I learned from many wise teachers and today, share these teachings with others.
In 2008, I became a single parent when my third wife passed away at the age of 47. This opened my eyes and when they moved out on their own, I moved back to Winnipeg.
Living in the city brought about problems and in 2015 I relapsed into the world of addictions. This lasted one and a half years, in which I returned into the gutter of that dark world.
Finally in the summer of 2016, an assault left me bruised and bleeding and being unable to tell the doctors or the police what had happened the previous evening.
I asked for help and began my journey of getting clean so that I could heal from the trauma I went through in the last year and a half. I attended two treatment centres and then moved into a women's shelter, where I resided for 11 months, before moving into my own apartment.
My journey brought me back to the medicines, the ceremonies and a good way of life. People who have watched my journey since 2015 have seen the changes I created to move in a good way in life; from a meth addict to a respected elder and knowledge keeper.
Teaching young trans folks
Today I teach our young trans folks and two-spirit individuals that the world is going through a change and that as time evolves so do the ways of society. I let our young relatives know that there are better days ahead for our Trans community.
Because of the ancestors in the Trans community today, we have resources meant to educate and promote a more respectable and accepting society.
Yes, there are still the ones who deliberately misgender us in public and the ones who perpetuate violence toward us. But even they are learning that we were here hundreds of years ago and we are still here.
We can live in peace, harmony and love.- Charlotte Nolin
Today, I walk with my head held high when I go out and I know that change has begun in every aspect of life. I let people know that anything is possible if we put our whole being into it.
(Having said that, I also know that I won't travel to certain countries where my life would be in danger anytime I would venture out.)
Each year, on Nov. 20, we read out the names of the hundreds of our sisters worldwide who have been murdered, just for being who they were.
Knowing this, I still believe that one day trans folks will be respected, acknowledged and accepted in society.
I believe humanity will open its eyes and realize that Creator made us who we are and know that we can live in peace, harmony and love.
I wish to thank my former self for all I have been blessed with: "He taught me everything I know."
Kitchi miigwetch, kinanaskomitin, maarsi, thank you.