TWO- SPIRIT ELDER AND FILMMAKER
I grew up in the bush in South Eastern Manitoba in the 1950s. We harvested the forest, had our gardens and lived off the land. We lived in cabins and didn’t have electricity until I was 12. The nearest town was 10 miles away.
I remember watching how the adults behaved and how my grandma would grab the blueberries and put her hand on me saying, “Remember where they come from and leave some for the birds.”
In 1961, when I was 15, we had to move because the forest we were living in was turned into a provincial park with all the cutting rights going to big pulp and paper companies. We moved to a small town where I started going to high school. Before that I never felt poor but then we were cut off from all that. I am the oldest of 12 kids so I started raising my siblings at a young age as we couldn’t afford to send me to study after school. There were not too many choices for women who didn’t want to get married so when I was 18 I joined a convent and became a Roman Catholic nun.
I had many experiences and opportunities in the Church that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. And it was a time of great change in the world: the challenging of the patriarchy by the women’s movement, social justice and theologies.
I was involved in social action and was arrested many times but my own community wasn’t supporting me, as if I was invisible. My spirit would not last there. I stopped going to church because it made me too angry and I was challenging the patriarchal heterosexism stuff.
I worked in literacy and social- action programmes and started the Native
Women’s Transition Centre and a shelter for youth on the street.
I never came out as a lesbian, I never felt the need but started the two- spirit programme at OutSaskatoon because there was no place for us five years ago in the LGBT+ community.
I have been going to two- spirit gatherings since the 1990s. We talked about creating a term to describe indigenous queer people not based on LGBT+ gender sex types and it was at one of the first gatherings that Myra Laramee suggested the name two- spirit from a dream she had. It meant the queer indigenous person had a spiritual world view, so a lot of gay First Nations people don’t call themselves two- spirit because it is about spirit or the practice of the traditional ways. We continue to excavate through the colonial trash, digging further and further to find our place in the community, our roles, responsibilities and medicines.
The definition of what two- spirit means can differ from community to community, nation to nation.
There is no one rule in our community for defining people; it’s up to them to determine. It is about each person’s gifts and purpose.
About 10 years ago, I started being called elder: I’m 71 now. I didn’t like being an elder, I still find it difficult but the community decides when a person is chosen.
Some elders are traditional knowledge keepers, some are medicine people, some are spiritual and cultural people who have been trained from when they were little to hold ceremonies.
In the two- spirit community they started calling me elder because they needed someone like me to be their rock, their grandma, their auntie.
I am not worried about us losing our culture. In the past 30 years I have seen that we fast and we sweat and we pray for that knowledge to come back.
And it does, it’s in our DNA, it’s in the stars, it’s in the spirit world, it is not far away. We just have to ask for it.
WE HARVESTED THE FOREST HAD OUR GARDENS AND LIVED OFF