Attitude - - Two Spirits -

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.



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