“Two-spirit people are one of the most marginalized groups in Canada,” the University of Winnipeg’s Dr. Chantal Fiola told participants at the concluding Critical Conversations seminar for 2019. She noted the myth that homosexuality among Indigenous groups was caused by sexual abuses and the residential school system. 

The fora that should address this marginalization often exclude two-spirit and queer people of colour (2S/QPOC). For example, none of the calls to action made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada mentioned 2S/QPOC or discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexuality. This informed the 2017 conference Two-Spirit & Queer People of Colour Call to Conversation with LGBT & Allies that highlighted the intersection of interests of two-spirit and queer people of colour. C2C was a three-day conference at the University of Winnipeg in partnership with 2S/QPOC community organizations in Manitoba. The conference aimed to build bridges beyond academia by reaching out to marginalized groups. The atmosphere for the conference was made safe for participants through the efforts of the Elders Council.

More than 200 languages across tribal communities in North America recognize some form of two-spirit. “A non-Indigenous person cannot be a two-spirit,” Métis Elder Barbara Bruce informed seminar participants at Robson Hall Nov. 27, 2019. Sexuality, race, gender, and spirituality are connected and inseparable from Indigenous cultures and communities, she said.

The Elders’ duties at the conference involved bringing the spirit energy into the room and observing whether everyone in the room felt comfortable and safe. Bruce said the Elders opened a wellness room that established a safe and comfortable space for 2S/QPOC at the conference. Elders listened and observed the pain of participants who do not have such safe spaces within their communities.  

Fiola said the Elders and wellness room were critical to the success of the conference. Many participants found the experience transformational. “Two years after the conference, people are still talking about the impacts of the wellness room.” Calls to Action from the conference target educational institutions, families, communities, government, the health system, creative practice and relationships.

Lobbying efforts to implement the Calls are ongoing, including meetings with the University of Winnipeg president regarding the education calls and discussions with MLA Uzoma Asagwara to explore placing 2S/QPOC issues on the agenda at the legislative assembly. The 2S/QPOC community is meeting regularly and there is discussion about convening another C2C conference. Elder Bruce concluded by imploring law students to take seriously the need to advocate for marginalized groups when they become lawyers.


Why do you think the TRC calls to action excluded 2S/QPOC?

Elder Bruce said there is generally a tendency to overlook the group. Fiola said statement gathering for the TRC in Winnipeg included 2S/QPOC concerns and calls but they were not included in the report or made public.

Is it possible that the exclusion is a result of strong Christian sentiments?

Elder Bruce said there is growing support for the recognition of 2S/QPOC rights at provincial and national levels. However, in communities with a strong Christian culture, there is resistance to Indigenous practices, so it is unlikely that 2S/QPOC people will be accepted in those communities.

Can you provide more details on the recommendations that the U of Winnipeg has agreed to implement?

Fiola pointed to recommendations in the education section such as call No. 10 to include anti-racist and gender expression pedagogy in curricula and course materials, integrate ceremonies at university events and hire Indigenous people to teach Indigenous courses. Elder Bruce said discussions with the University of Winnipeg include the need to include 2S/QPOC language in university settings.

How can law students get involved in the 2S/QPOC activism?

Fiola said C2C had an institution panel that ought to have included legal and justice issues but future conferences will address this omission. In a broader sense, law students should engage with the 2S/QPOC community to understand their needs and design legal solutions addressing those needs.

Listen to podcasts from seminars in this series.