Pride and History

Indigenous society looks to restore Two Spirit people to their sacred places

In traditional Indigenous communities, Two Spirit individuals held sacred places. Being able to look upon problems and issues from both a feminine and masculine point of view, they were often able to act as mediators, such as filling the role equivalent to a modern day marriage counsellor.

Edmonton 2 Spirit Society (E2S) was founded in April 2018, and focuses on re-establishing and enhancing those traditional roles and responsibilities, while also creating a supportive environment for Two Spirit people. The Society notes that there is evidence of Two Spirit Indigenous people in Edmonton dating back to 1795.

Cheyenne Mihko Kihêw, community liaison and acting executive director of E2S, explains “The term ‘Two Spirit’ honours gender diversity. What that might exactly mean is different for different people and different Indigenous nations. We focus on providing a safer place for all Two Spirit, Indigiqueer and 2SLGBTQIA+ peoples.”

Cheyenne Mihko Kihêw, community liaison and acting executive director of E2S

This year, E2S received a $50,000 grant from Edmonton Community Foundation to help with operating expenses, with the support of The Altview Foundation for Gender Variant and Sexual Minorities.

E2S places culture at the heart of its work and holds traditional ceremonies and events as often as possible, such as sweat lodges and pipe ceremonies. It offers many services for the Indigenous 2SLGBTQIA+ community, from knowledge building about how to support the Indigenous 2SLGBTQIA+ community for students and educators to support for Gay-Straight Alliances to on- and off-reserve programs. The organization also partners with other agencies like HIV Edmonton and Queer and Trans Health Collective (QTHC) and assists with other community events and initiatives, like the Medicine Bundle project with the Community-Based Research Centre.

The organization is dedicated to fostering networking, knowledge exchange, training and mentoring, and strives to increase access to public services. E2S also provides a community gathering space and creates gender-affirming spaces within ceremonial settings.

One of the more troubling facts for 2SLGBTQIA+ youth, especially those who are Indigenous, is that many become unhoused because of conflicts with family over gender identity. This situation is made worse by tragedy, as 2SLGBTQIA+ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their peers. When a youth becomes unhoused, they face many challenges, which can include using street drugs or becoming involved in the sex trade. E2S does its best to assist youth in this situation. E2S is currently working to develop a transitional housing project for Two Spirit and Indigenous LGBTQQIA+ folks experiencing gender-based violence. More information will come soon about this project.

Mihko Kihêw explains that before Turtle Island was colonized by Europeans, the Indigenous role of Two Spirit was a sacred part of Indigenous culture. After colonization, Two Spirit individuals faced stigma not only from European colonizers, but also from within the Indigenous communities. E2S is part of the national Two Spirit Resurgence Movement that recognizes traditional roles and gender fluid identity among Indigenous people. E2S proudly puts on celebrations for the communities it serves. It recently held a burlesque and drag show for adult community members. The event had the added benefit of a sexual health talk and a sober dance. Mihko Kihêw knows the importance of giving Two Spirit/LGBTQ+ Indigenous people a chance to meet, celebrate life together and even just show up and show solidarity among the community.

“It’s big energy, lots of vibes. It’s a really amazing experience to be in a Two Spirit-centered space. The work that our elders and knowledge keepers share with us — a lot of it is about the gatherings because we recognize the importance of being your authentic self or exploring what that means to you … it’s a very special and unique experience,” says Mikho Kihêw. “It might be the first chance for them to feel accepted in their skin, in the heart they carry.”

This story comes from the Summer 2023 edition of Legacy in Action.