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We've Always Been Here: Two-Spirit People in The Midewiwin Creation Story | Chantel Fiola

Updated: Nov 22, 2020


Finding my Way Back to The Lodges


Like many Red River Métis people, I wasn’t raised going to Indigenous ceremonies; I

was raised Catholic. In my early twenties, when I moved from Winnipeg to Toronto

to pursue a Master’s degree, I had my first professor who self-identified as Métis and

incorporated sharing circles, smudging, and bundle items into her courses. She brought

me to my first women’s drumming circle, full moon ceremony, and sweat lodge (a Two-

Spirit sweat in downtown Toronto). When I moved from Toronto to Peterborough to

pursue a Doctoral degree, I chose Indigenous Studies and met Midewiwin elders who

brought me to ceremony. Eventually, they told me, “It’s time for you to go home and

make these relationships where you come from.”

I moved back to Winnipeg, sought out spiritual teachers and began to build

relationships in Hollow Water, Roseau River, and Shoal Lake First Nations, and St.

Laurent (my mom’s Métis community. I grew up in Ste. Geneviève, my dad’s French,

Catholic, farming community). I met a spiritual mentor who helped me offer asemaa

(tobacco) to learn my spirit name and clan, and initiate into the Midewiwin lodge – an

ancestral, spiritual way of life practiced among the Anishinaabeg and others including

the Métis. More recently, I began my journey as a Sundancer and completed my first of

four consecutive years of dancing. Participating regularly in ceremonies and learning

spiritual knowledge therein gives my life direction and purpose, and helps me maintain

sobriety – I haven’t touched drugs or alcohol in almost 10 years. Ceremonies also

helped me make peace with the Church; I have learned that being female, Two-Spirit,

and Michif (Métis) are gifts from Creator, and that all spiritual traditions should be

respected.

It is ironic that universities helped me connect with other Métis, First Nation, and

Midewiwin people and ceremonies since colonial education disconnected us in the first



place. (The day school in St. Laurent is the reason my mother never taught my sisters

and I the Michif language.) I used the education system to create space for myself to

learn about relationships between Métis people and ceremonies; eventually, this would

lead me to learn about Two-Spirit people in Creation.

DISCONNECTION/RECONNECTION TO CEREMONY AND TWO-SPIRIT SACREDNESS

Through my doctoral research, I learned that in the early 1800s, priests in “Manitoba”

were upset that Métis people called themselves Catholic but also participated in “La

Grande Médicine” (Midewiwin lodge). I uncovered ways that the British/Canadian

governments disconnected Métis from our First Nations cousins and ceremonies:

refusing to sign treaties with Métis, excluding Métis from registered Indian status,

indoctrinating Christianity via education (day/residential schools) and child welfare story

(60s Scoop), and repressing Métis after our resistance on the prairies in 1885. Such

disconnection (also felt among our First Nations relatives) included the loss of cultural

and spiritual understandings of gender and sexuality as they would have been taught to

us in the Midewiwin lodge.

Colonization targeted genders and sexualities that didn’t fit the European model for

eradication; as a result, homophobia became a real problem in many Indigenous

communities - and today, the suicide rate among queer Indigenous youth is

disproportionately high. Some elders insist homosexuality didn’t exist on Turtle Island

(North America) before white people arrived, that homosexuality was brought here

on their boats. I’ve heard of Two-Spirit people being turned away from ceremony. Yet,

countless anthropological texts discuss third and fourth genders, and sexuality that

defied European understanding, existing among many Indigenous nations. There are

words for such people in many Indigenous languages; while I have yet to find a Michif

word to describe us, we most certainly existed historically as we do today.


Some elders and traditional knowledge holders have retained knowledge about Two-

Spirit people. This information is not easy to find given the degree to which colonization


and homophobia have affected our (spiritual) communities. I passed tobacco to more

than one elder who said, “I’m sorry, I don’t have the teachings you’re looking for. But

don’t give up - the knowledge you seek is out there.” I offered tobacco to sacred fires

and asked Spirit to help me find Two-Spirit teachers.

My tobacco was answered and I began meeting Two-Spirit people who have been

participating in the Two-Spirit Movement for decades; they are now recognized by

community as traditional knowledge holders and elders. I’ve passed them tobacco

and heard many stories about Indigenous participation in early Pride marches, the

formation of the International Native American Gay and Lesbian gathering in the

late 1980s, and the adoption of the term “Two-Spirit” at the gathering in Beausejour,

Manitoba in 1990. Since then, Two-Spirit has become an umbrella term for Indigenous

[including Métis] LGBTQIA* that also references culturally-specific understandings of

gender, sexuality, and relationship to land.


TWO-SPIRIT PEOPLE IN CREATION


Recently, I passed tobacco to the Chief of a Midewiwin lodge in Shoal Lake, ON. -

himself a Two-Spirit person. After a pipe ceremony and traditional feast, and with the

help of a Grandmother Water Drum, he generously shared with me (and two others

who were present) a one-hour portion of the Midewiwin Anishinaabe Creation Story

featuring Two-Spirit people...We’re in the Creation Story - we’ve always been here! He

gave me permission to share this knowledge with others.

Here is part of the story he shared: early in human history, there emerged human

beings that displayed a curiosity for knowledge and an ability for compassion that

set them apart – they could love in a way that others couldn’t. Spirit chose them as

spiritual/ceremonial knowledge-carriers and tasked them with keeping community

together (among other things). There have been times in human history when humanity

had forgotten the original instructions Creator gave us for mino-bimaadiziwin (good,

healthy, balanced life); the beings who were not like the others brought reminders of

Creator’s instructions. These ones are called naawenaangweyaabeg – those in the centre

who keep others from wandering. While this is an Anishinaabe teaching, I have no

doubt there are teachings like this in many other Indigenous nations.


"being two-spirit is a gift from creator”


If our youth could grow up hearing these teachings, and knowing about the important

work that Creator entrusted to us as Two-Spirit people, the suicide rate would

decrease. For this reason, I will continue passing tobacco to learn about our roles as

naawenaangweyaabeg and respectfully share this knowledge so that others can also

know who they are, and together we can pick up our work. Being Two-Spirit is a gift

from Creator: the work we do is needed to help our communities regain health and

wellbeing. We are sacred. If you have the gift of being Two-Spirit, we need your help

and the work that you can contribute. We need you to uncover the teachings from your

nations and share that medicine; we are collectively reviving our understandings of

gender and sexuality, and healing from the wounds of colonial thinking.


Miigwetch



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