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Indigenous pride event on highlights Two-Spirit gender identity and history  | CBC News


Island Morning8:29Indigenous Pride

It’s Pride week here on PEI and we look at what the 2-S means in 2SLGBTQ, what the Indigenous identity of two-spirited means, and why it’s important not just culturally but spiritually.

Islanders participating in a workshop held by the Native Council of P.E.I. Thursday got a chance to explore gender identity from an Indigenous perspective as they learned about the history of two-spirit people.

“Two-spirit” is a term for Indigenous people who feel they have both a female and a male spirit.

Mi’kmaw knowledge-keeper Stephenson Joe said that while it might sound new and trendy, the two-spirit identity has existed long before colonization.

“There was a sacredness amongst two-spirit people, especially amongst the medicine people,” Joe said.

He said their ability to switch between traditional gender roles was useful in times of war and peace.

If there weren’t enough male warriors, Joe said, a two-spirited person could switch and go into battle. And if there were not enough women, they could act as caregivers, gatherers, or medicine preparers.

“If the male medicine person wasn’t strong enough or didn’t have the teachings to do that particular ceremony, a two-spirited person would be needed to conduct that particular ceremony and vice versa,” he said. 

Kaelyn Mercer, the Two-Spirit coordinator at the Native Council of P.E.I., poses for a photo.
Kaelyn Mercer is two-spirit coordinator with the Native Council. She said European colonizers targeted two-spirit people when they arrived to North America.  (Victoria Walton/CBC)

Joe said religious rules brought by Europeans drove two-spirited people underground.

“We just accepted each other [before that],” he said.

“That needs to come back.”

Growing acceptance

Kaelyn Mercer is the Native Council’s two-spirit co-ordinator. She said European colonizers targeted two-spirit people when they came to North America. 

“They were seen as unworldly,” she said.

Thursday’s event, done in partnership with Pride P.E.I. as part of Pride Week, saw the screening of a documentary about a two-spirit person who’d been the victim of a hate crime.

The screening was followed by a healing circle to discuss the film. 

Mercer said two-spirit people are becoming more accepted, including within Indigenous communities.

Grass dancing — traditionally done by men at powwows — is being opened up to two-spirit people and women, she said.

‘It’s never felt like an announcement’

Jasmine Pauze, from Garden River First Nation in Ontario, said few people in her community were surprised when she came out.

“It’s never felt like an announcement or something I need to prove,” she said. 

Pauze said there is beauty in not being labelled by the gender binary. She might feel male one day and female the next.

She said being two-spirit means embracing the energy and taking up the space she feels drawn toward.

“I’m really happy to see that we’re kind of getting back to that,” Pauze said.


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