Healthy Living in the North

Diversity and culture: celebrating Two-Spirit people

Two eaglesWhen my aunt was born, the elders of my community knew that she was different from her siblings. They said, “take care of him, he is special.”

I knew about Two-Spirit people since I was little girl. My mother took me to my first Pride parade in Vancouver when I was 10. She didn’t explain anything about it other than that it was a Pride parade. I remember the colours, the music, and the number of happy, beautiful people dancing in the parade. My cousins, who were also there, didn’t understand it. They were my age, and being boys raised in a heteronormative home, the thought of boys being with other boys was “icky.” But I didn’t mind, I just seen love! I was more offended about how close-minded my cousins seemed to me. Looking back at it, my cousins and I grew up very differently. My parents were always open-minded, and raised me to be as well.

That’s why I feel so passionately about the inclusion, acknowledgement, and awareness of Two-Spirit people – not only in the LGBTQ family, but in the general public as well. Two-Spirit is a term that spans western categorizations of gender, sex, and sexuality, holding diverse cultural and individual meaning (see page 5 of Dr. Sarah Hunt’s publication). “2S” people are also a minority within an already marginalized group of peoples. The numbers of 2S people who face racial and sexual discrimination, violence, suicide, substance abuse, and HIV/AIDS infection are gargantuan in comparison to their counterparts (page 15-17). This has been well-documented and summarized in the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health‘s recent literature review, An Introduction to the Health of Two-Spirit People: Historical, contemporary, and emergent issues.

Written by Dr. Sarah Hunt, the goal of the paper is to introduce the historical, contemporary and emergent issues related to Two-Spirit peoples’ health. The paper does what it is intended to do while explaining gender, sex, sexuality; defining Two-Spirit Indigeneity; and addressing the impact of colonialism on Two-Spirit people. While this may seem daunting, I assure you that Hunt lays out the issues solidly with clarity and ease. For me, the strength of the paper emanates from the sections Social Determinants of Health: Understanding the Colonial Context (section 3) and Resiliency and Resurgence of Two-Spirit Roles (section 6). Hunt weaves colonial history with the modern day issue of “systemic invisibility” (page 12) which 2S people feel in society as a result of this history.

As the opening of this blog indicates, the elders of my community knew about my aunt before she transitioned. They could tell she was an exceptional person from the day she was born. She struggled through her life quite a bit, overcoming a lot of prejudice, judgement, and violence as a First Nations person. When she decided to transition, it seemed that this adversity amplified. She is a human being with a big heart, and she seems more at peace with who she truly is, regardless of the hardships.

My hope is that we are able to come together and support one another regardless of issues or judgements – and this hope has grown from empathy for those who passed away and were wounded at the recent shootings in Orlando, in which 50 people at a gay nightclub were killed in a mass shooting, just because of who they were and are. In Prince George, the Northern Pride Society held a vigil on June 13, 2016, in memory of those who passed, were injured, and were affected by this shooting.

On the other side of the scale, people are buzzing about the upcoming Pride Parade taking place here in Prince George on July 9. Elsewhere in northern B.C., Quesnel Pride took place last month and Fort St. John had a Pride Walk just two weeks ago. In Dawson Creek, Pride is celebrated in October. Everywhere, these are days of celebration, solidarity, and pride for allies and the LGBTQ2S family. What is happening in your community?

There is also a new health resource for trans people in northern B.C. located in Prince George. If you or someone you know is looking for care or more information, please contact the Northern Transgender Health Clinic.

I strongly recommend reading the NCCAH report on Two-Spirit peoples’ health; it gives an amazing introduction to terminology and methods. The entire report is important not only to health professionals, but to everyone in society. Just because we don’t understand someone doesn’t mean we get to dehumanize them. Two-Spirit people, in my opinion, need society’s loving embrace to facilitate stronger ties between each of us as human beings. These relationships create better futures, opportunities, and qualities of life for all those involved.

Shalane Pauls

About Shalane Pauls

Shalane Pauls is the 2016 Aboriginal Health Summer Student Intern. She has an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and a minor in First Nations Studies. Recently, she was accepted to the Master’s Program in First Nations Studies at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC). Shalane is from the Tsimshian and Tahltan Nations and was raised in Terrace, where she completed her first two years at Northwest Community College before coming to UNBC. When not in the office, she enjoys beading, biking, and gardening. Shalane is passionate about Indigenous rights and issues, and enjoys bringing this enthusiasm to her work space.