June 1st marked the beginning of Pride Month – intended to celebrate and commemorate the LGBTQ2S+ community, observed in the Western world. Many organizations have committed themselves to signaling their support for the LGBTQ2S+ community, however, in Canada, another equally important celebration occurring at the same time is often overlooked – namely, National Indigenous Peoples Month, whereby National Indigenous Peoples Day takes place on the summer solstice.
A Brief History of Gender & Sexual Diversity
The Stonewall riots in 1969 were a historical series of gay liberation protests that ushered in the celebration of Pride Month the following year (History.com, 2017). Although seen as an impetus to the LGBTQ2S+ liberation movement, the history of gender and sexual diversity predates this rebellion. Long before Western scholarship supplanted Indigenous knowledge systems prior to colonization, Indigenous Peoples have rejected gender binaries and acknowledged and embraced alternative concepts to genders in their communities (Tran, 2022).
The erasure of the extensive history of gender and sexual diversity can be attributed to Western colonialism. In Canada, specifically, Christian missionaries viewed gender as a binary and Indigenous Peoples who identified as Two-Spirit were solely seen as homosexual and were forced to reject their identities and conform to Western patriarchal norms and heteronormativity that aimed to disempower (Tran, 2022). In addition to the Western rejection of Two-Spirit identities, other assimilative efforts have had profound impacts on Indigenous Peoples today.
What is Two-Spiritedness?
Two-Spirit (2S) is a contemporary term used by some Indigenous Peoples to describe individuals who embody both masculine and feminine qualities or have a combination of male and female spirits within them (Canadian Encyclopedia, 2023). While Two-Spirit is a relatively new term, the concept predates European colonization and is deeply rooted in Indigenous cultures.
In Indigenous cultures, Two-Spirit individuals often hold important roles within their communities, such as healers, visionaries, or mediators. They are respected and considered to have unique perspectives and gifts that allow them to bridge the gap between genders and bring balance and harmony to their communities.
It’s important to note that Two-Spirit is not synonymous with being transgender or non-binary. While some Two-Spirit individuals may identify as such, Two-Spirit encompasses a broader cultural and spiritual understanding of gender and sexuality within Indigenous communities.
The term “Two-Spirit” was coined by Cree educator Myra Laramee in 1990 during the International Gathering of American Indian and First Nations Gays and Lesbians in Manitoba, to reclaim and revitalize Indigenous understandings of gender and sexuality (Tran, 2022). Since then, it has been embraced by many Indigenous peoples across North America as a way to honour and celebrate the diverse expressions of gender and sexual identity within their communities.
Indigenous Recognition in Canada
June is National Indigenous Peoples Month intended to recognize the rich heritage of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. National Indigenous Peoples Day takes place on June 21st to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures, and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people in Canada.
The development of National Indigenous Peoples Day was a direct result of the contributions of Indigenous Peoples during the 1980s and 1990s. Initially, the celebration, announced by Governor General Romeo LeBlanc in 1996, was called National Aboriginal Day. Since June 21st, 2017, Prime Minister Trudeau issued a statement re-naming the day to the one we celebrate today (Government of Canada, 2023).
Since the 2021 discovery of 215 unmarked graves in British Columbia at the former Kamloops Residential School, both historical as well as current Indigenous issues have arguably become more recognized and pertinent in Canadian society. Therefore, it is vital to continue to acknowledge the challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples and advance the efforts of reconciliation nationally.
The Importance of Intersectionality
Intersectionality is a concept that recognizes that individuals can experience overlapping systems of oppression and discrimination based on their intersecting social identities, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, ability, and more. Understanding intersectionality is crucial when it comes to Pride Month and celebrating Two-Spirit Indigenous Peoples because it acknowledges the unique and complex experiences of individuals who face multiple forms of discrimination.
Pride Month is a time to celebrate the LGBTQ2S+ community and promote equity, diversity, and inclusion. However, it is important to recognize that the experiences of LGBTQ2S+ individuals are not uniform. They are shaped by other aspects of their identity, such as race, ethnicity, and cultural background. For Two-Spirit Indigenous Peoples, their identity encompasses both their LGBTQ2S+ identity and their Indigenous heritage. They face unique challenges and forms of discrimination that may stem from both homophobia and transphobia within non-Indigenous communities, as well as from colonialism, racism, and the erasure of Indigenous cultures.
Understanding and embracing intersectionality in the context of Pride Month means recognizing the different experiences and struggles faced by Two-Spirit Indigenous individuals. It means acknowledging and amplifying their voices, experiences, and contributions within the LGBTQ2S+ community and society at large. It also involves working towards inclusivity and dismantling the colonial systems of oppression that affect marginalized communities.
By centering intersectionality, Pride Month can become an opportunity to celebrate the diversity within the LGBTQ2S+ community with a decolonized lens by recognizing Two-Spirit Indigenous peoples. It provides an opportunity to address the specific needs, challenges, and achievements of these individuals and to create spaces that honour and reclaim their identities and experiences.
Calls to Action
With this in mind, how can organizations make June a more inclusive month of celebration that centers on the idea of intersectionality?
Education and Awareness
- Educate yourself and your team about the history, experiences, and contemporary issues facing Two-Spirit peoples. Recognize the diversity of Indigenous cultures and the significance of the Two-Spirit identity.
- Share educational resources, books, documentaries, or articles with your employees to promote understanding and cultural sensitivity.
- Consider inviting Indigenous speakers or community leaders to share their experiences and perspectives during Pride Month and National Indigenous Peoples Month events and workshops.
Amplify Two-Spirit Indigenous Voices
- Offer platforms for Two-Spirit people to share their stories and perspectives. This could be through guest blog posts, interviews, or hosting virtual panel discussions.
- Highlight and promote Two-Spirit leaders, activists, and artists by sharing their work, hosting virtual exhibitions, and supporting their initiatives.
- Collaborate with Indigenous organizations and community groups to create inclusive events that center and uplift Two-Spirit voices
Support Indigenous LGBTQ2S+ Organizations
- Allocate resources or donate to Indigenous-led LGBTQ2S+ organizations that provide support, resources, and advocacy for Two-Spirit individuals. This helps to address the unique challenges they face, both within and outside their communities.
- Consider forming partnerships or offering pro bono services to these organizations to further their impact.
Foster Safe and Inclusive Spaces
- Review your workplace policies to ensure they are inclusive and respectful of all gender identities, including Two-Spirit individuals.
- Implement DEI training programs that specifically address the needs and experiences of Two-Spirit employees.
- Provide resources and support networks, such as employee resource groups or affinity groups, to help create safe spaces for Two-Spirit individuals within your organization.
Collaborate with Indigenous Communities
- Engage with Indigenous communities in a meaningful and respectful manner. Seek their guidance and involve them in decision-making processes when planning Pride Month and National Indigenous Peoples Month events or initiatives.
- Prioritize building long-term relationships with Indigenous organizations, fostering collaboration beyond Pride Month, and supporting their ongoing initiatives.
By actively integrating these calls to action into your Pride Month and National Indigenous Peoples Month celebrations, we can foster a more inclusive environment for individuals of all gender and sexual identities, making a positive impact. Let’s work together to ensure that the celebration of LGBTQ2S+ identities truly embrace the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Happy Pride and National Indigenous Peoples Month!