Free To Be: Two Spirit Teachings
From June 27–July 1, 2016, we engage in a series written by members of the Ryerson Community that explore the questions, “How do our sexual and gender identities intersect with other aspects of our identity and how does that affect building our ideal campus?”
What I am about to share on Two Spirit teachings have been accumulated by myself and by no means are a total reflection of all the teachings and stories related to Two Spirited held by the many nations of Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit people.
Two Spirit people have been a natural part of Indigenous cultures across Canada. Before first contact with European colonizers, most Indigenous people recognized the importance and commonness of Two Spirit individuals and the special abilities they possessed. How the individual expressed themselves was not under scrutiny, it was accepted as a part of the individuals’ ways of being like all members of the community. There was no judgement, simply freedom of self expression and loving who you love.
They were visionaries, medicine people, healers, shamans, mediators in marriage and tribal disputes, keepers of history and lore. They took part and often lead social and spiritual ceremonies and were leaders of their communities, respected as equal and vital members of Indigenous societies. There are individuals documented in history, great women who took wives and carried the bow and men carrying out duties usually assigned to women.
For some, rituals determined if the person was two-spirited and taught young boys to do women’s work in addition to that reserved for men. Similar rituals applied to girls. Children of both genders would also spend time with healers, often two-spirited people themselves. Above all, their childhood was marked by acceptance and understanding by the whole nation.
The notion of shame of who one is was introduced with the arrival of others to this land. The idea that man was superior over all other living things assisted in their judgement and offered a sense of one right way of being. If one feels superior, then you can give yourself license to deem your way as the only right and proper way to be.
With this belief one can feel justified to suppress, devalue, or eliminate anything you choose. They destroyed what or who is in their way, ruling supreme, and suppressing or killing all that oppose. Certainly Christianity played a huge role in the shame/blame game and compounded the sense of right and wrong, good and evil.
Due to the strong influence of Christianity on our people, unfortunately these judgements prevail. There are initiatives to promote sexual health and inclusion with Indigenous youth and in our communities in general. The Native Youth Sexual Health Network, external link explores sexual questions, seeking sexual awareness, acceptance, and answers around all sexual questions. Most Aboriginal agencies within the GTA offer services and groups that touch on or directly address the promotion of sexual health.
The future is bright for the next generations to once again be free to be who they are and love who they love. The continued use of signage that is reflective of Indigenous two spirited and other sexual gender identities offers a welcoming and inclusive feeling by the Ryerson community. Ryerson has included representation from the Indigenous community in initiatives on sexual health and I would ask that this continue. Also to include teachings or persons that represent the Indigenous concept of acceptance and inclusion to all gender and sexual identities and knowledge.
All my relations.
Tomorrow on the Identity Intersections: Building a Proud Campus from the Whole Self series: A Place to Be Safe: RyersonSA’s Efforts in Inclusive Programming