Creating safer spaces
by Patrick Quinn
Three Cree advocates for the 2SLGBTQ community (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) have launched a new non-profit organization called Two Spirits of Eeyou Istchee.
While founders Scott Wabano, Geraldine Shecapio and Jomarie Einish have increasingly been leading the 2SLGBTQ movement in the region, the new organization came together after Shecapio posted on Facebook about the need for two-spirit resources and services in Eeyou Istchee.
“Jomarie contacted me and Scott saying they agreed with me,” said Shecapio. “Ever since then we’ve been having meetings and talking about what kind of projects we could start. We’re working on building a strong foundation for the organization.”
Friends since college, Einish and Wabano reconnected at an Indspire Hope conference in Ottawa, which led to attending a two-spirit conference in Toronto together. Both were very open about their identities by this time and frequently discussed how two-spirit issues could be elevated in their own region.
“That’s how we started networking with fellow two-spirit people across the country, so we had a sense of community to build on,” Einish said. “The three of us were all going through our own journeys, recognizing these services weren’t offered in our region and how far we had to go to even find these resources.”
A group call revealed all were on board to create this organization with each bringing different ideas to respond to the diverse needs of the Cree 2SLGBTQ community. Since the official announcement on November 28, Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty and many Cree entities have reached out to offer support and ask how they can help.
“All communities want to better educate the public and create safer spaces for the rainbow community,” Shecapio explained. “Attitudes have totally changed compared to 10 or 15 years ago. There was a lot of lateral violence and even physical violence to whoever identified as 2SLGBTQ. People today are more curious and respectful.”
Since being crowned Miss Eeyou Eenou Iskwaau in 2021, Shecapio has become an outspoken advocate for two-spirited people with empowering messages of acceptance and healthy living. In December 2021, they passed a resolution with Quebec Native Women that two-spirited folks be recognized, acknowledged and not discriminated against.
“I was open about being two-spirit in the pageant and that sparked hope, especially for our youth,” Shecapio told the Nation. “I have a lot of questions about pronouns these days. I like to point out if it’s hard for people to refer to me as they/them, just to think of me as a pack of bees.”
Last year, Shecapio started virtual sharing circles for two-spirit youth and organized “Embracing Your Spirit”, a three-day Eeyou Eenou two-spirit conference over Zoom. Einish delivered a presentation about two-spirit inclusivity, explaining there’s a difference between sex and gender: “You can be female and two-spirit, but your pronouns are different because gender is a feeling – it's not who you are on the surface.”
Before contact in many Indigenous cultures, two-spirited people were revered for being gifted with both male and female spirits, often visionaries or healers and a fundamental component of societies. The group is considering how they can revitalize that historic two-spirit lineage in Eeyou Istchee.
“Something that’s resurfacing is that two-spirit people are considered sacred,” said Einish. “It’s about having to relearn what history tried to erase from us. Just existing is decolonization. How I bring that balance to communities is participating.”
The three friends emphasize that anything they do is inclusive and intended to deconstruct gender norms. Einish facilitates workshops for parents and healthcare professionals about the realities of two-spirit people while creating artisan crafts, which they sell through their business Washashqawin Euphoria.
Wabano has a particularly visible platform for educating society about Indigenous 2SLGBTQ identities through their genderless streetwear brand “Wabano”. The fashion designer is headed to New York Fashion Week in February, with Gull-Masty as one of 12 models taking the runway.
“With my platform within fashion, I try to educate people about the colonial stereotypes set in place within fashion and communities,” explained Wabano. “Labelling my clothing as genderless and combating against the gender-binary system is to show how much colonization plays a toll in fashion as well.”
With growing talk about authenticity, sustainability and inclusivity in the fashion industry, Wabano feels those conversations can’t happen without two-spirit people at the table. Recognizing the importance of positive representation, Wabano works with Indigenous models of all shapes, skin tones and sizes, amplifying the voices of two-spirit and gender non-conforming youth.
Wabano has worked with giant corporations like Nike and IKEA Canada to help decolonize their brands and has recently worked with companies and schools to help develop policies that ensure 2SLGBTQ youth are better protected and respected.
“There’s a lot of talk that all spaces are safe spaces, but we actually need policies, laws and legislation to enforce that,” Wabano asserted. “Ensuring there’s counsel as well if these youth want to pursue that. We’re planning their first community Pride parade too. I hope to see that across all communities of Eeyou Istchee – celebrating and honouring our 2SLGBTQ relatives.”
As the founders of Two Spirits of Eeyou Istchee plan outreach events, they are adamant that the organization isn’t just about them. Shecapio said they want to make life easier for the youth and future generations, creating more supportive and tolerant communities with better opportunities and services.
“There are a whole lot of us within the region and I feel this organization can’t grow without their input and voices,” said Wabano. “We’ll definitely be including them and hosting a kick-off event to celebrate this milestone for all the community. Seeing two-spirits fulfill their roles within communities is not an accomplishment of ours but the whole Cree Nation.”
Patrick Quinn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nation