A two-spirit journey: finding identity through Indigenous culture

3 MIN READ

Growing up in Listuguj, a small Mi’gmaq community on the East Coast, Gina lived what was, in many senses, a simple childhood.

A competitive figure skater and dancer, her life was largely consumed by sports. Queer rhetoric wasn’t something that was often heard, and sexuality wasn’t something she ever really questioned.

“It was kind of just assumed that I would marry a man, have a white picket fence, a couple of kids and go along with that life,” she says.

All of that changed when Gina moved away from home after high school to pursue her studies in Montreal.

“It was kind of just assumed that I would marry a man, have a white picket fence, a couple of kids and go along with that life,” she says.

For the first time in her life, she was exposed to people who lived different types of lives — in the dorm room next door to hers were two queer women. “I was so intrigued by them, but I could never understand why,” she says.

Searching for answers, Gina enrolled in a Queer Studies class to explore what the LGBTQ+ community was all about. “I realized there was something missing in my life. I wanted to see if I was part of that community,” she says.

It was there — through a mandatory reading assigned to the entire class — that Gina first learned about people who identified as two-spirit: a term coined in 1996 to describe an Indigenous person who identifies with both male and female gender roles. But as someone who was born female and identified as a woman, Gina didn’t feel completely connected to the term.

Eventually, Gina’s journey of self-discovery led to a deep depression, which prompted her to seek help from a spiritual healer. This person informed her about the two-spirit community, describing it as an umbrella term — similar to the word queer. “He taught me that even if I was in love with a woman, I could still own that title,” says Gina.

“For me, being two-spirit is really that spiritual and cultural connection — to the word, to my place and how I walk this earth.”

Never having known anyone to come out, Gina was worried about revealing her true identity to her family and friends. Thankfully, her mother was there for her every step along the way – helping her to set an example for future generations.

“My mother has been the biggest champion for me. At times when I’m too tired to fight for the rights and responsibilities and the inclusion for two-spirit people, she reminds me very gently of the need to continue to be that voice – especially for the youth who are coming after me.”

Gina’s wife has also acted as pillar of support, giving Gina the courage to speak her mind and remain at the forefront of important issues. She also encourages Gina to embrace her vulnerability and always be authentic.

“Without the support and love from the women in her family and her brother, I would not be here today. They’ve been my life source.”

A way forward

Prior to colonization, Gina says two-spirit people held highly respected roles in the community. They were able to see both sides equally. They were individuals that stepped up when there was a gap in the community. From corpse handlers to marriage counsellors, two-spirit people performed the roles that were needed — regardless of gender.

“With colonization, a binary system was put in place. Two-spirit people were told they were ‘damaged goods’,” says Gina.

Today, Gina uses her voice to combat the homophobia and transphobia that is still present in many Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities across Canada. “By sharing our stories, it gives us all an opportunity to connect,” she says. “It allows two-spirit people to start creating spaces and ceremonies that make sense for our brothers and sisters.”

Now living in Ottawa, Gina says she is proud to be in a city that accepts both the queer community and the Indigenous community.

“Ottawa just comes with a very open mind,” she says. “I think part of that has to do with the proud Indigenous culture that exists here, the community agencies that work together, and the events of reconciliation that are happening.”

United Way Ottawa is proud to support programs that help LGBTQ+ children, youth and families on their path to pride. We advocate and support social justice initiatives within our city that support diversity, inclusion and belonging, while combating homophobia, transphobia, discrimination, and other issues that prevent LGBTQ+ people from reaching their full potential. Funds raised through #PathtoPride support our partners at Ten Oaks Project and Family Services Ottawa in their work to lift up our LGBTQ+ community.

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