Manitoba

University of Winnipeg Two-Spirit Archives a first in Canada

The decades-long history of the two-spirit movement here in Manitoba and throughout North America is now being saved and preserved at the University of Winnipeg Archives.

Collection will be on display at archive's official launch

Albert McLeod, a long-time activist and co-director of Two-Spirited People of Manitoba Inc., has donated most of the items in the new Two-Spirit Archives. (Shane Gibson/CBC)

The decades-long history of the two-spirit movement here in Manitoba and throughout North America is now being saved and preserved at the University of Winnipeg Archives.

The collection — mostly donated by long-time Winnipeg two-spirit activist Albert McLeod — will be on display at the archive's launch Monday, kicking off the school's Pride Week celebrations.

Believed to be the most comprehensive collection of two-spirit materials in Canada, Mcleod says the archives will be used by researchers, historians and two-spirit people to tell the story of the movement's 40-year history.

"There was an intention to erase any history of Indigenous people in Canada through colonization, the residential school era, and I think queer Indigenous people were definitely not seen as something that the colonial state wanted," explained McLeod, 63, who will be among the speakers at the archive's launch.

"So I think it's doubly important to include our history — our story — as we move forward as a society."

The collection includes a number of photographs from two-spirit events held across North America over the last 40 years. (Shane Gibson/CBC)

While definitions of two-spirit vary from territory to territory, McLeod has described it as "a term used to describe aboriginal people who assume cross- or multiple-gender roles, attributes, dress and attitudes for personal, spiritual, cultural, ceremonial or social reasons."

"It predates colonization," he explained. "As with many ancient societies around the world there were LGBT people who were part of society, but it was only after colonization that it became prohibited."

The collection includes newsletters, journals, magazines, reports, newspaper clippings, correspondence, poetry, photographs, posters, art, textiles, books and video.

Some of the items have been digitized and can be viewed on the archive's website.

McLeod, a co-director of Two-Spirited People of Manitoba Inc. and a member of the archive's advisory council, started donating the items to the school's archives in 2011.  

The collection currently fills three boxes, says Brett Lougheed, acting associate dean of the U of W library. (Shane Gibson/CBC)

It includes things he's collected since becoming part of the movement after moving to Vancouver from Winnipeg in 1979. He says he's seen many changes over the last 40 years.

"We were really invisible, we really didn't have representation in the broader gay community, on both sides it was about assimilating into western culture," he said of the early years.

But things have changed, he says, noting the Assembly of First Nations recently passed a resolution in support of setting up a national two-spirit organization and pointing to the inclusion of a two-spirit powwow in Pride Winnipeg's annual celebrations.

The archives are needed to document the struggles that led to that change, says McLeod.

"It's a reflection of that past," he said.

"Now I'm getting older and there's a new generation of two-spirit people, it's really about recording of history, documenting it."

Brett Lougheed, acting associate dean of the U of W library, holds up a tapestry that's part of the collection launching Monday. (Shane Gibson/CBC)

So far the collection fills three boxes, says Brett Lougheed, acting associate dean of the U of W library.

"Which isn't a very large collection, but it's representative of the marginalization of two-spirit people in our documentary heritage," said Lougheed, who hopes to see the collection expanded once the archives officially launch.

"What we're trying to do now is to develop the collection a little further, attract more two-spirit donors, get more visibility and more use out of the collection."

McLeod says he's been in touch with his friends and colleagues from across the country, letting them know the archive is looking for items.

While Lougheed says there are "little pockets of materials" located at other archives in Canada, he believes the archive at the U of W is the only collection in the country devoted to preserving two-spirit people's history. 

Much of the collection has been digitized so it can be accessed online. (Shane Gibson/CBC)

McLeod is grateful to see the pieces of history find a home.

"In terms of Indigenous human rights, two-spirit rights are also part of that process of reclaiming rights and identity," he said.

"For us it's that legacy piece and that's what the archive is suited to do, is really maintain that legacy and preserve it for future generations."

The U of W Two-Spirit Archives launch will be held in the school's archives from noon to 1 p.m. Monday following the raising of the Pride and Two-Spirit flags on the school's front lawn.

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