ORGANISER OF SASKATCHEWAN’S FIRST TWO- SPIRIT PRIDE
I am a councillor for the Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree nation. I look after community development, emergency management, communications, and, as a former member of the Canadian Forces and as a gay man, I have taken on an advocacy role for the LGBTQ2 and veterans in the community. The First Nation fluctuates between 1,400 and 1,600 residents, while the nearby town of Duck Lake has 700 people.
There was a residential school that operated for 106 years in town. It was a dominating, gothic- stlye building, which closed in the 1960s and was burnt down by teenagers in 2001.
The residential schools were specifically for indigenous youth and are a dark chapter of Canada’s past. A lot of residential school survivors call it recovering from genocide, which is a really interesting concept when you look at the history of the schools and what was done there.
The Canadian government has been reluctant to use the word genocide, but the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada used the term “cultural genocide”.
The First Nations population is growing fast right across the country, [ maybe] at a rate of three times higher the national average but a lot of First
Nations in Saskatchewan have not had access to economic growth the way other municipalities have — simply because of the 150 years of repressive tactics such as residential schools.
It was not until the 1960s that First Nations people were allowed to vote or hire a lawyer and remember that we were huntergatherers forced to be part of an agriculture system in which our crops were sold for less than those of white farmers.
The government of Canada will talk about reconciliation and I applaud them [ for that] but from a First Nations perspective there is still so much that needs to be done. Look at unemployment, poverty, housing, health, criminality, the justice system, the number of women in prisons.
The government’s talk does not match the action we are seeing, particularly in Saskatchewan. The racial divide in this province [ shows] that reconciliation isn’t working. That is not to say the efforts won’t produce results in the future.
PM Justin Trudeau and I are friends. I worked with him when I was on the National Board of the Liberal Party of Canada. I believe in his genuine desire to reconcile indigenous issues. But we as a society have to do better. There are two- spirit people who have faced systemic discrimination.
In May 2016, I approached our chief asking to do something in our community that would be ground- breaking. I said it might cause some concern in the community, but was important for us to do as leaders. I wanted to host Saskatchewan’s first twospirit Pride parade.
He said: “Get it done.” I was very grateful for his support and at our following council meeting I was shocked that the support was unanimous.
It was a gorgeous day and we had 300 people come out. It was fantastic to see people who are not on the LGBT+ spectrum — particularly young people — come out in support and not being afraid.
The community has said they want to see the parade continue and be a priority. That is the reason I do the work that I do: to make people feel welcomed, accepted and loved.
HAS BEEN RELUCTANT TO USE THE WORD, BUT THE CHIEF JUSTICE USED THE TERM CULTURAL GENOCIDE