This new group is increasing two-spirit and Indigiqueer visibility across Quebec
They're new, without a building or even a logo, but the Two-Spirit Indigiqueer Circle has big aspirations for the future.
"My vision for this organization as a whole is just to be able to show that we are here, and you're not alone," said Kailey Karahkwinéhtha Nicholas.
Nicholas, who is Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) from Kanesatake, was hired as a project c-oordinator for the new non-profit organization. It marks the first province-wide organization to support 2SLGBTQ people across all First Nations and Inuit communities in Quebec.
Diane Labelle is one of the co-founders but views themselves more as a mentor. Labelle is a longtime educator, researcher and advocate and said the idea to form the organization stemmed from recommendations from a 2022 report that they researched and wrote for the Montreal-based LGBT+ Family Coalition.
"The problems or the issues that were there decades ago still were unresolved," said Labelle, who is of Kanien'kehá:ka and mixed heritage and is based in Montreal.
"The level of fear, the level of intimidation and the isolation from community, family and traditions were still very present in communities."
For Labelle, the goal is to provide youth with a sense of security and safety — and community.
"They need connection with other individuals who are from other nations who are also living the same dynamics or similar dynamics," said Labelle.
Planning events, collaborations
Following a first gathering in January, both Labelle and Nicholas have been hitting the ground running organizing a slew of activities, events, and collaborations with other organizations.
In addition to working on a logo, website, and securing a physical space, the team is working with Montreal Pride on events that will occur in August including representation in the annual parade, a conference on Indigenous perspectives and realities, and inclusion in the festival's opening show.
"On this path to reconciliation, our non-Indigenous team can't pretend to have the expertise or lived experience to do this alone. Working with Indigenous organizations like Indigiqueer Circle is an important step on this collective journey," said Simon Gamache, executive director of Montreal Pride.
"We celebrate such an organization coming to life. We hope they will guide us and challenge us so that we can offer Indigenous communities a better representation."
Work is also underway to create more visibility within First Nations and Inuit communities by supporting those who are organizing Pride parades or events, having a presence at powwows or other cultural events, and sending delegates to upcoming conferences.
One of the other groups they plan on collaborating with is Two Spirits of Eeyou Istchee, a non-profit organization for the 2SLGBTQ community in Eeyou Istchee or James Bay Cree territory in northern Quebec that was started last year.
Jo-Marie Einish, one of the co-founders, also participated in the Two-Spirit Indigiqueer Circle's gathering in January.
"It was really amazing to just come together with like-minded people. You don't necessarily feel like you're going against the grain," said Einish, who is Cree and Naskapi from Whapmagoostui and Kawawachikamach.
"You feel like you're moving towards something. When you all carry that same dream and that same feeling of purpose, a lot of great things will definitely come out of it."
Einish said they feel like the organization will help create a foundation for a needed safe space for 2SLGBTQ youth in First Nations and Inuit communities.
That's what it's all about for Nicholas.
"We're not only advocating for trying to rid communities of any sense of discrimination but to celebrate," she said.
"We're saying no more homophobia, no more transphobia, but we're also saying be loud and proud."