Dis­crim­i­na­tion against two-spirit in­dige­nous peo­ple linked to sui­cide

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - KRISTY KIRKUP

OT­TAWA — Ojibwa-Cree el­der Ma-Nee Cha­caby says com­ing out nearly 30 years ago was like un­zip­ping her skin so she could re­veal her true self.

It was a mo­ment of relief af­ter years of pain.

“I’ve been happy since that day,” she said from Thun­der Bay.

“I ad­mit­ted to my­self who I was and what I was about.”

Prior to 1988, Cha­caby said she was bul­lied and in­jured for identifying as two-spirit — a term she uses to de­scribe car­ry­ing both a fe­male and male in her body at the same time.

“It re­ally hurt me to be beaten by my own peo­ple be­cause I was First Na­tions and two-spirit and then it re­ally hurt me to have white peo­ple beat me up be­cause I was brown and I was two-spirit,” she said.

Dis­crim­i­na­tion per­sists to­day to­ward in­dige­nous peo­ple who iden­tify as les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, queer, trans­gen­der, queer and two-spirit, said In­dige­nous Af­fairs Min­is­ter Carolyn Ben­nett — an is­sue experts say is con­nected to the youth sui­cide crisis.

“There’s a big hes­i­tancy just around the in­dige­nous sui­cides in Canada for the lead­er­ship to rec­og­nize that some of those sui­cides are re­lated to op­pres­sion around gen­der iden­tity or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion,” said Al­bert McLeod, the co-or­di­na­tor of Two-Spir­ited Peo­ple of Man­i­toba. “It is a ta­boo con­ver­sa­tion.” In an in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press, Ben­nett said she heard con­cerns raised by young peo­ple at­tend­ing the Feath­ers of Hope — an event sup­ported by On­tario’s child and youth ad­vo­cate that in­cludes del­e­gates from north­ern com­mu­ni­ties.

“When you hear it di­rectly from the young peo­ple, I think it re­ally does just break your heart,” she said.

“It was al­most also the same response of kids who were de­scrib­ing sui­ci­dal ideation — that they weren’t allowed to talk about that out loud be­cause they would go to hell.”

Experts say there is a clear link to sui­cide among in­dige­nous youth.

Sen. Mur­ray Sin­clair, who spent six years documenting Canada’s church-op­er­ated, gov­ern­ment-funded res­i­den­tial school sys­tem, agrees there is an un­doubted con­nec­tion.

“They are not go­ing to go to hell, but they might be treated like they are in hell,” he said in an in­ter­view. “That’s a real fear.” Evan­gel­i­cal foun­da­tions of­ten speak out strongly against tra­di­tional val­ues and be­liefs, par­tic­u­larly around twospir­ited peo­ple, Sin­clair said.

“That is a di­rect re­sult of the Chris­tian foun­da­tions of the res­i­den­tial schools,” he said.

Ben­nett said the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has heard sto­ries about the need to flee bul­ly­ing in com­mu­ni­ties as part of dis­cus­sions held ahead of the na­tional pub­lic in­quiry into mur­dered and miss­ing in­dige­nous women, adding in­di­vid­u­als said they had also been tar­geted in ur­ban cen­tres.

One of five com­mis­sion­ers for the in­quiry — hu­man rights lawyer Brian Ey­olf­son — self-iden­ti­fies as two-spirit.

“I hope that it might make some peo­ple feel more com­fort­able to tell their sto­ries to the in­quiry if they know there is a twospir­ited com­mis­sioner,” he said.

“I come to this work with that life ex­pe­ri­ence, but I am an im­par­tial and neu­tral com­mis­sioner.”

Ey­olf­son said it is crit­i­cal to hear about dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences to shed light on what con­trib­utes to vi­o­lence against in­dige­nous women and girls, in­clud­ing trans­gen­der and two-spirit peo­ple.

As­sem­bly of First Na­tions Na­tional Chief Perry Bel­le­garde, who plans to march in Toronto’s gay pride pa­rade in June, said re­spect needs to be re­stored for two-spirit peo­ple, tra­di­tion­ally viewed as sa­cred by in­dige­nous peo­ples.

“If there is dis­crim­i­na­tion, if there is in­tol­er­ance, if there’s racism to­ward our two-spir­ited peo­ple, that has to end,” he said.

COLE BURSTON, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Ma-Nee Cha­caby, an Ojibwa-Cree el­der from Thun­der Bay, says she was bul­lied and in­jured for identifying as two-spirit.

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