Brian Eyolfson is a Commissioner, National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
June is Pride Month, and as we celebrate two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual (2SLGBTQQIA) people, and all other sexual orientations and genders, it is also a time of reflection. We have seen many accomplishments, but there is still much work needed to overcome deep-seated prejudices and exclusion.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has included in its mandate the realities faced by Indigenous people who identify as 2SLGBTQQIA. Throughout the National Inquiry’s Truth Gathering Process, survivors of violence, families who lost loved ones, researchers and advocates shared compelling truths about the ways colonial violence disproportionately affects 2SLGBTQQIA people.
Our final report, released last week, includes experiences of Indigenous people who identify as 2SLGBTQQIA. In some cases, these truths were shared by the family members of missing and murdered Indigenous 2SLGBTQQIA people. In other cases, 2SLGBTQQIA individuals shared their own experiences as survivors of violence. Many who participated in the National Inquiry’s processes, including Knowledge Keepers and experts, agreed that Indigenous 2SLGBTQQIA people are often forgotten in any discourse about violence, and the lack of distinctions-based data is a significant barrier in recognizing and understanding the scope of violence they face. The testimonies we heard during the Truth Gathering Process reinforce the point that when communities are homophobic or transphobic, they are reinforcing colonial actions – both outside Indigenous communities as well as within.
Prior to European contact, an important ethic that prevented homophobia and transphobia was that of non-interference. It was bad form to question another person’s destiny or divine gifts. Through the residential school system and other colonial practices, the Canadian state forcibly altered Indigenous gender norms and imposed practices aimed at erasing and excluding accepted 2SLGBTQQIA identities, and cultural and spiritual roles. That distortion became internalized by many individuals, families and communities, and continues to have deep and damaging ramifications today.
Throughout the National Inquiry, we heard that many 2SLGBTQQIA people felt forced to leave their traditional territories and communities, sometimes because of the threat of violence directed toward them. Many shared that they felt isolated or alone, and ended up leaving home for urban areas, in search of safety and acceptance, but often faced new barriers.
Many families shared stories about how transphobia, homophobia, sexism and racism intersected with the lives of their loved ones in ways that created serious challenges in the areas of culture, health, security and justice. Many Indigenous 2SLGBTQQIA people were living in poverty at the time of their disappearance or death; many were unable to find safe and accessible housing and were instead living on the street; and many were unable to access services that were culturally appropriate and gender-affirming. This remains the reality for too many.
We also heard that there is hope; a resurgence is under way in Canadian society. Social media is connecting Indigenous youth in new and powerful ways, including those who are 2SLGBTQQIA. Within Indigenous communities, there is also growing acceptance of two-spirit people in traditional ceremonies, such as Pow-Wows, sweat lodge ceremonies and sun dances. This speaks to the deep resiliency and courage of 2SLGBTQQIA people.
So as we march this month, and raise our flags, let’s celebrate and redouble our efforts to extend acceptance, protections and rights to everyone. Let’s be the inclusive Canada we know we can be.