Indigenous

New We Matter campaign asks youth to submit their definition of two-spirit

A new social media campaign is asking Indigenous youth to submit their own definition of "two-spirit," which will then be compiled into a "two-spirit dictionary."

There's 'power and beauty' in how each person defines it for themselves, says Tunchai Redvers

Tunchai Redvers is the co-founder of We Matter. The organization has partnered with Facebook Canada and Taxi to create an online dictionary dedicated to one term, 'two-spirit.' (Submitted)

A new social media campaign is asking Indigenous youth to submit their own definition of "two-spirit," which will then be compiled into a "two-spirit dictionary."

"There's so much confusion around what two-spirit means," said Tunchai Redvers. 

"But also there's power and beauty in how every single, two-spirit identified person will define it differently or define it for themselves."

Redvers is Dene/Métis from the Northwest Territories, and the co-founder of the We Matter campaign, an Indigenous-led organization for youth support and life promotion/suicide prevention.

We Matter has teamed up with Facebook Canada and advertising agency Taxi for the two-spirit dictionary campaign. 

"For myself, I would define two-spirit as a term that encompasses both my queer identity and my indigeneity or my Indigenous identity," said Redvers. 

"The term two-spirit doesn't separate those two parts of my identity… but rather those two identities are full in themselves. Also for me personally I would say that it encompasses a fluidity of both masculine and feminine spirits."

Growing up, Redvers said she struggled with how to identify and said it is important to bring an online campaign to a national platform to help address homophobia.

"Indigenous youth still die by suicide at the highest rate but within that, two-spirit and LGBTQ+ Indigenous youth die by suicide at even higher rates," said Redvers.

"There's still so much homophobia and transphobia in this country but also even in our Indigenous communities."

History of the term

Albert McLeod, a two-spirit elder from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in Manitoba, said he is proud of the work that two-spirit youth are taking on.

He said the term two-spirit was coined in Winnipeg in 1990, and came at a time when political events like the Oka Crisis and the Meech Lake Accord were happening.

"Gender identity, sexuality, sexual orientation intersects with Indigenous politics and Indigenous rights," said McLeod.

"For two-spirit people, we have been part of that history going way back to early Indigenous rights movements in North America."

Albert McLeod is a two-spirit elder. He says the term originated in Winnipeg in the 1990s. (Shane Gibson/CBC)

McLeod said the term came about after two-spirit elder and educator Myra Laramee had a dream about it. She then presented it to a gathering that was held in Winnipeg for Indigenous LGBT folks who wanted to learn more about spirituality and traditional healing.

"A lot of this suicide ideation or suicide is related to discrimination around gender identity or sexual orientation," said McLeod.

McLeod said Indigenous communities are becoming more inclusive, and communities that are more welcoming to two-spirit people will help prevent suicides.

We Matter has an Ambassadors of Hope program that puts facilitators into Indigenous communities to talk about things like suicide prevention, youth empowerment and Indigenous issues.

John Peters from Fox Lake Cree Nation facilitates workshops in Indigenous communities that focus on trauma and education. He says it's important for youth to see themselves reflected in media and education. (Brodie Parachoniak)

One of the ambassadors is John Peters from Fox Lake Cree Nation in Manitoba. 

He said an online campaign for two-spirit youth will help create a community.

"It's really important for Indigenous youth, specifically two-spirit LGBTQ+ youth, so they can see themselves in catalogues where things like mental health are being talked about," said Peters.

The campaign was launched on June 21, Indigenous Peoples Day, and will accept submissions until August. Submissions can be sent directly to We Matter's Facebook Messenger account.

Each of the submissions will be uploaded to the We Matter website and will be available in print and PDF copies, and will be sent to communities across the country.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1

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