Poet Joshua Whitehead redefines two-spirit identity in Full-Metal Indigiqueer

When you look for a clear definition of the term "two-spirit" you'll quickly find that there isn't one. Joshua Whitehead wants to change that.
Joshua Whitehead is the author of the poetry collection full-metal indigiqueer. (Courtesy of Joshua Whitehead/Talonbooks)

When you look for a clear definition of the term "two-spirit" you'll quickly find that there isn't one.

An Oji-Cree storyteller from the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba wants to change that. Joshua Whitehead is a two-spirit poet and scholar who is currently working toward his PhD in Indigenous literature at the University of Calgary.

Two-spirit, in the simplest sense, is an Indigenous person who is a member of the LGBTQ community.

But Whitehead said his sexual identity is a "braiding of two worlds" — his queerness and his culture. The word Indigiqueer is his way of making a space, land and ceremony for that identity.

"I go by both two-spirit and Indigiqueer. One to pay homage to where I come from, from Winnipeg, being kind of the birthplace of two-spirit in 1990. But I also think of Indigiqueer as the forward moving momentum for two-spiritness," he said.

Difficult conversations

His collection of poetry, Full-Metal Indigiqueer, deals with the decolonization and resurgence of the Indigenous queer identity. 

"They're always kind of conversations or topics that have been taboo for me, which has led to those situations of isolation, of fear and sometimes even removal from certain spaces; bingo halls, or sometimes family dinners and or even from ceremony and tradition itself."

Whitehead said they are difficult conversations but ones we need to have in order to change.

"Bringing the vivacity and the viciousness of two-spiritness or Indigiqueerness to the table and saying, 'We are not a was. We are not this kind of mythic kind of romantic idea of what two-spirited people are or what they were.'"

Click the Listen button above to hear Joshua Whitehead read one of his poems.