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Indigenous History Month: The Mental Health of Two-Spirit Peoples in Canada

This June, Sedâ Psychotherapy is celebrating both Pride and Indigenous History Month, and in this piece we will be looking at mental health for Two-Spirit peoples in Canada. We are grateful that we get to take this month to be intentional about how queer communities and Indigenous communities can work together to process and combat minority stress, and to advocate for a brighter future.

Two-Spirit Peoples of Canada

Two-Spirit is a translation of the Anishinaabemowin term niiz manidoowag, and refers to a person who embodies both masculine and feminine spirits. In Canada, the term Two-Spirit emerged in 1990 at the Third Annual Native American Gay and Lesbian Gathering in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as a way to unite various gender identities and sexual orientations within Indigenous communities. It reflects the holistic view of gender, sexuality, and spiritual identity that many Indigenous cultures traditionally held before colonization.

Two-Spirit people have held respected roles within their communities, often fulfilling spiritual, ceremonial, and healing roles. Embodying both masculine and feminine qualities represented a balance and harmony that is to be celebrated.  In Canada, generational colonization led to the suppression and erasure of Two-Spirit identities. Colonial authorities actively sought to eradicate Indigenous cultural practices, including those related to gender diversity and sexuality. This cultural genocide had devastating effects on Indigenous communities, leading to the loss of languages, traditions, and knowledge about Two-Spirit identities.

Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Health for Two-Spirit People

Two-Spirit people have endured incredible generational trauma through both racist colonization and hegemonic social structures that are layered with heteronormativity, sexism, and gender discrimination.  This has contributed to emotional, mental, and spiritual pain that many Two-Spirit people live with.  Consider the following facts and figures:

  • Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ Indigenous Canadians experience poverty at a higher rate than other populations, especially in urban areas where Indigenous trans, gay, lesbian, bisexual and Two-Spirit people experience homelessness at rates far higher than their non-Indigenous/heterosexual/cisgender counterparts

  • Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ Indigenous people experience high rates of depression, anxiety, and substance use than their non-Indigenous/heterosexual/cisgender counterparts

  • Many Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ Indigenous Canadians note that fear of discrimination on the basis of HIV status, sexual orientation, or Indigenous identity has at some point stopped them from accessing health services

  • Indigenous youth, sexual and gender minority youth, and Two-Spirit youth are at higher risk for suicide than their peers

Two-Spirit Visibility Matters: National Indigenous History Month

In recent years, there has been a revitalization of Two-Spirit identity and activism within Indigenous communities across Canada. Two-Spirit individuals and their allies have been reclaiming and celebrating their cultural heritage, asserting their rightful place within their communities and advocating for recognition and rights.  By elevating the voices of Two-Spirit people, they are better able to share their experiences and their needs to ensure things like emotional, mental and spiritual wellness.

“Because of how I grew up, I was so terrified of offending anybody that I chose not to do anything for many, many years… But I wish somebody had told me ‘You belong in this world, you’re a part of this world, you’re a part of creation, and you have every right to be on Earth.’”

- Connie Merasty, a Two-Spirit member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba

In June we celebrate National Indigenous History Month, elevating and celebrating the contributions of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people to the development of Canada.  It is also a time to have critical conversations, to reflect on the trauma that has been inflicted on Indigenous Canadians, and to have conversations about what is needed for truth and reconciliation.

June is an excellent springboard to start elevating Two-Spirit voices, celebrating Two-Spirit identities and identifying ways we can all help to shape a more inclusive future for Two-Spirit peoples.  Cultivate your education about and awareness of Two-Spirit history, culture, and contributions to Indigenous communities and Canadian society.  Read books, watch documentaries, and attend events that focus on the perspectives of Two-Spirit individuals. 

There are events happening nationwide that you can consider participating in, and no shortage of recommended educational resources to delve into.  By celebrating Two-Spirit peoples, learning about their experiences and needs, and celebrating their accomplishments, we can create a future that prioritizes Two-Spirit mental, emotional and spiritual health.

The team at Sedâ Psychotherapy wishes you a powerful National Indigenous History Month! All of the therapists on our team offer culturally-sensitive and anti-oppressive care that aims to decolonize our therapy practices. Our therapist Samantha Pockele has undergone specialized training to better serve Indigenous clients on Turtle Island. Visit our booking page to schedule a free consultation with our therapists.

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