Indigenous two-spirit community finds place to be their 'true selves' on P.E.I.

·2 min read
John R. Sylliboy, executive director of the Wabanaki Two-Spirit Alliance, says many people who are two-spirit use the Indigenous pronoun nek'm. (Tony Davis/CBC - image credit)
John R. Sylliboy, executive director of the Wabanaki Two-Spirit Alliance, says many people who are two-spirit use the Indigenous pronoun nek'm. (Tony Davis/CBC - image credit)

Members of Canada's Indigenous two-spirit community are gathering on P.E.I. this weekend to celebrate their identities.

They are coming together for workshops, discussions and cultural activities, but one of the main reasons is discussing what it means to be two-spirit.

"Sometimes it just offers people a safe place to vent about what troubles and what kind of support, if you're isolated, how can they reach out to us and build a network of family and friends," said Tuma Young.

John Sylliboy, the executive director of the Wabanaki Two-Spirit Alliance, says many people who are two-spirit use an Indigenous pronoun.

"In Mi'kmaq, we don't have a pronoun for he, she necessarily. We just have the one pronoun, which is nek'm and nek'm or nek'mow in the plural sense that really gives us an identity marker about the fluid nature and the acceptance of who we are, without having to necessarily tie our identity only to one thing, because our one thing is about being Indigenous."

Tony Davis/CBC
Tony Davis/CBC

About 35 people are taking part in the events at Camp Abegweit, which began on Thursday and wrap up Sunday.

Participants have come from the Maritime provinces, as well as the Gaspé region and Maine.

1st formal gathering on P.E.I.

Sylliboy has had meetings on P.E.I. before with two-spirit community members, but this is the first formal gathering on the Island for the alliance.

Sylliboy said while many understand terms like gay, lesbian and bisexual, the meaning of the term two-spirit isn't as well understood.

"It really encompasses a lot of the non-binary and a non-linear approach to identity," Sylliboy said.

Two-spirit individuals haven't always been accepted in their own communities. In fact, years ago it was hard to get drummers to come to these events because of the stigma.

That's why Sylliboy says it's important to be able to identify in their own language.

And there is lots of dancing, chanting and drumming.

"We want to make sure that people are, you know, being themselves, their true selves, their best selves, their best selves here. So that's the idea."