Last week over on Instagram, Unbelts Marketing Manager, Devonne, had the pleasure of chatting with Cheyenne, the Community Liaison at the Edmonton 2-Spirit Society (E2S). E2S's mission is to re-establish and enhance their traditional roles and responsibilities as 2-Spirit people in Indigenous communities while creating supportive environments within all societies for contemporary 2-Spirit peoples.
They discussed what it means to be 2-Spirit, the work that E2S does in the community, and actionable ways that you can support 2-Spirit individuals.
Can you share with our audience what it means to be 2-Spirit?
Devonne: We are stoked to have you here Cheyenne. For those who might be brand new to the terminology - can you share with our audience what it means to be 2-Spirit?
Cheyenne: Sure. I think that's the question that I get asked the most. And it's honestly one of the hardest questions to answer, because 2-Spirit is really more like an umbrella term or a placeholder term for gender diverse and sexually diverse Indigenous people here in Turtle Island. Turtle Island being Canada, the United States of America, and Mexico.
And it looks a little different to each nation, depending on where you're coming from and what the teachings are. And I really want to preface that I'm not a knowledge carrier. I'm very new in my 2-Spirit journey, so I don't hold all the information. But for me personally, what it means to be 2-Spirit, is it's really tied to my Indigeneity as a nehiyaw or Cree person. And within our language, we have eight different genders, and each gender has their own specific role and responsibility within their own society.
2-Spirit people historically have held these revered or different positions in their community where they could transcend the binary. And I know the term 2-Spirit seems a little like masculine/feminine, but it really does transcend that binary. You have people that are able to walk in both worlds, but then you have people that are in between and they don't really fit in either of those. It's a complex term, but it generally reflects the gender diversity and sexual diversity within Indigenous communities.
But I think it's also important to note that not all 2-Spirit people identify as queer or trans, and not all queer and trans Indigenous people identify as 2-Spirit. So it really is a personal thing, and it depends on your own nation's teachings and your own journey as well.
(Editor’s Note: Cheyenne also recommends checking out this excellent resource from Harlan Pruden on the meaning of the term 2-Spirit)
So what kind of education can folks in Alberta access to do their own continued learning about 2-Spirit individuals?
Devonne: We have a lot of our staff tuning in today. And my colleague and I were talking about how there can initially be some fear from people when they want to learn and they want to help, but they don't feel like they're educated enough in a specific area. So what kind of education can folks in Alberta access to do their own continued learning about 2-Spirit individuals?
Cheyenne: Yeah. So folks here in Edmonton and in this kind of central region can reach out to us at Edmonton 2-Spirit Society. We have a list of resources on our website. There are some books, literature and other resources that you can access, and you can also just come sit with us. We're more than willing to have a Zoom chat or go for a distance walk in a park and chat with you one-on-one. We have knowledge carriers and elders that we can connect with you with, because like I said, I don't hold all these teachings and I'm very new in my learning.
And so it's important that we offer protocol and sit with the people who do carry these teachings, because those stories are going to get lost if we don't sit with them. So if you can find a way to connect with people in your own community in a good way, it depends on where you're located. But there's different 2-Spirit organizations all across the Island. So if you're looking to connect with one in your area or perhaps start one in your area, then reach out to us.
We'd love to chat with you and support that work. But really it's just about putting your own effort into the research and seeing that we do a lot of emotional labour around this work. And so if you're going to reach out to individuals in the community, just do it in a good way, offer protocol and sit with them, listen and learn.
Devonne: Yeah. Absolutely. You also have a fantastic YouTube channel.
Cheyenne: I can't believe I didn't mention that we have three amazing videos that we just made, and they're short. They're just meant to be really placeholder videos to get you thinking about these topics. They're called 2-Spirit Knowing. And the first two videos are specifically featuring knowledge carriers and elders. And a couple of them are 2-Spirit themselves. And then the third video features some of my colleagues and myself talking about what it means for us as individuals to be 2-Spirit.
We also have workshops that we're developing around these videos. So we're able to provide workshops to schools, businesses, organizations, and really be flexible with what we offer.
What are some ways that folks in Alberta can honour 2-Spirit people?
Devonne: That's amazing. I'm so glad a resource like this exists in Edmonton. What are some ways that folks in Alberta can honour 2-Spirit people?
Cheyenne: Yeah, so one little, very tiny shift that we encourage people to consider is putting the 2S out at the front of the LGBTQ+ acronym (e.g. 2SLGBTQ+), and that just recognizes that 2-Spirit folks have been here since time immemorial and honours that resurgence movement and our contemporary efforts to reconnect to traditional roots.
It can be really hard to reconnect to your culture. And there is a lot of homophobia and transphobia within our communities still. And it's really important for our own communities to also hold space for us and be uncomfortable. It's okay to be uncomfortable. Sometimes it's okay to do some learning and even within our own communities that has to happen. So I recommend just listening to the 2-Spirit people in your life and seeing what they need and making yourself accessible as a safe person for those who maybe aren't out yet, or helping people connect to resources.
You can also donate to local organizations. You can volunteer for our organization. COVID kind of limits what we're doing publicly right now. But once we have events happening, we're always looking for people to get involved with our work. So you just show up and speak out for us and don't tokenize us. You know, that's the best thing that you can do for us is just help us on our journey.
So can you share a little bit about the work that the Edmonton 2-Spirit Society does?
Devonne: Those are all really actionable suggestions. Thank you. Now we haven't really talked a ton about the organization. So can you share a little bit about the work that the Edmonton 2-Spirit Society does?
Cheyenne: We started as a small grassroots organization that was led by a team of volunteers and they put a lot of time and effort into building the foundation of what it is now. So we're really grateful to the early founders and the early members who put a lot of work in with their own time and money.
Last year we secured federal funding. We were able to hire our Executive Director, Jeffery Chalifoux, myself, the Community Liaison, and now we're just applying for extra funding so that we can enhance our programming. Right now one of the things that we're offering is a mental health program. We have referrals that we're able to make and we provide suicide crisis intervention as well.
Another big thing that we do is community education. We just hired a great educator. Her name is Sissy and she's amazing. So if there's any schools specifically between Kindergarten - Grade 12 that are looking for educational supports, Sissy will be working to provide that.
Oh, and a mural program as well with Lance Cardinal. We're really excited about that one. We all love Lance. We're so grateful to him for his support.
Devonne: Amazing. It's incredible that you do so many different things. That’s a lot of stuff and you’re not a big organization in terms of staff!
Do you have any stories to share?
Devonne: I guess my next question here is, do you have any stories to share? And it might be an event or interaction, just a reflection of something that brings joy to the work that you do?
Cheyenne: Yeah, like everything that I do brings me joy. I have to say that this is a job that I envisioned for myself for a long time. As someone who's new on their journey, it feels really great to know that there's opportunities for people to have this work. And so it's like my goal to make sure that more funding is secure so that more people have jobs doing what they love, because it's a really unique opportunity that we have here.
I think one of the biggest things that sticks out is we had a spring gathering to honour those videos that we made. It was like a premiere for our videos. And we spent a whole day with 2-Spirit people all across Canada and allies, and we had a whole panel and presenters. And it was just a really powerful day. And a lot of people were crying all day.
It was just really emotional to then receive comments and emails and feedback from folks who said that they had never experienced anything like that or that they finally feel like they're part of something and that they have a space in the world. That's one of the most validating things, knowing we belong in the circle. We belong on this land. We belong here.
I think that's the best part of my job, is that I get to provide support to folks like myself who struggle with having connection to their community, to their culture. So, yeah, that's my very emotional answer. My friends call me Cryenne because I'm always crying.
Devonne: Thank you. Thank you for being so open today and going so deep. We really appreciate that. This collaboration with Lance and E2S is really exciting and really special for us.
Cheyenne: We're just so grateful for all the community support. We're a small but mighty team and we just want to make sure that we can do the best we can to provide equitable access to services for our community. So if you're out there and you need support, you can reach out to us. We're here.
--------One of the best parts of our collaboration with Lance Cardinal has been the conversations it’s sparked - not only with Lance, but with other community members, artists, and organizations.
You can keep up with the Edmonton 2-Spirit Society on Instagram, Facebook or their website. You can shop the full Lance Cardinal X Unbelts collection here - proceeds from every sale in June benefit the Edmonton 2 Spirit Society.
You can learn more about Indigenous history from coast to coast here, and use this interactive map to find out what Indigenous land you live and work on. Here at Unbelts, we are on Treaty 6 Territory, which extends across present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan; a traditional meeting ground for many Indigenous peoples, in particular the Cree, Saulteaux, Blackfoot, Dene and Nakota Sioux, and the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 4; on whose territory we live, work, and stand.