My family is from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, a community several hours north of Winnipeg.
The Swampy Cree dialect of our community has no word for homosexual and no gender specific
pronouns.1 Rather than dividing the world into female and male, or making linguistic distinctions
based on sexual characteristics or anatomy, we distinguish between what is animate and what is
inanimate. Living creatures, animate objects, and actions are understood to have a spiritual
purpose (Ahenakew). Our language and culture are rooted in this fundamental truth: that every
living creature and everything that acts in and on this world is spiritually meaningful. This
understanding is reiterated in the term two-spirit, a self-descriptor used by many Cree and
other Aboriginal lesbian, gay, bi, and trans people. When we say that we are two-spirit, we are
acknowledging that we are spiritually meaningful people. Two-spirit identity may encompass all
aspects of who we are, including our culture, sexuality, gender, spirituality, community, and
relationship to the land.
As a two-spirit woman, I know that an understanding and expression of my own identity is very
different from those that prevail in most other Canadian cultures and I am very grateful for this.
For me, two-spirit identity is empowering. As an educator and psychologist, I wanted to learn
more about what our identity means to other two-spirit people and how this empowered
identity appears within the context of the sustained racism, homophobia, and sexism that most
of us have experienced.
In the narratives of two-spirit people, coming in is not a declaration or an announcement.
Rather, it is an affirmation of interdependent identity: an Aboriginal person who is glbt comes to
understand their relationship to and place and value in their own family, community, culture,
history and present-day world