People behind a new university group are hoping to foster community and showing queer Indigenous people they are not alone.
Shayna McArthur grew up on White Bear First Nation. After moving off reserve, she felt disconnected from her roots, traditional language, culture and from other two-spirit people. She saw the need for a specific two-spirit group and partnered with other two-spirit people to create 'Pride and Buffalo Hide.'
"To be Indigenous and queer as a Nakota woman, as a Nakota queer, gay woman, having all of these things, to me, it's definitely reclaiming empowerment," McArthur said. "To reawaken, what they call these like spirit bundles."
McArthur said in Nakota tradition and other nations' traditions, people have a bundle that they hold in themselves. Hers has just been asleep, she said. McArthur wanted to open her bundle and share the gift of being two-spirit with others who identify the same.
"And to tell them that you can be Indigenous and you can be queer, gay, however you identify, you can do that and you can have those traditions," McArthur said. "And it's valid and it's really sacred for the person who holds it."
Through the colonization of Indigenous peoples, two-spirit people were forced to not live their truth, forced to to hide and told it was wrong. The legacy of that lingered in her own upbringing, she said, because she knew her language and culture but didn't hear about two-spirit individuals.
"When I tried to bring it up, it was always kind of brushed off and a lot of it was tied to colonialism too. Colonization took a lot of things away from our people and put their own beliefs onto my own people."
She said reclaiming that feels joyous for her and she sees that same joy in others. The group started meeting in January virtually with about a dozen people.
McArthur said after the pandemic, she hopes to meet in person and hold ceremonies for the group as well.
"It was amazing to see how many people came and were talking about their own experiences and talking about what it means for them to have a safe place to go to that, you know, validates them," she said. "Your place has always been here."
"It kind of felt like coming home," Alyssa Prudent said of the first meeting.
The self-identified two-spirit lesbian had been looking into the differences between Indigenous queer and settler experiences leading up to the group's creation. They said queer Indigenous people face extra challenges because they're trying to heal from colonization while being two-spirit.
"Colonization has taken so much of how things could have been and so it's just kind of like existing on your own land, in your home land, and then also having to deal with the homophobia and transphobia added on top of that, too," she said.
Prudent said they hope it's a space to heal from intergenerational trauma and helps people know they have a safe space.
All two-spirit people welcome
McArthur hopes to also get more involved in the university and see more inclusion of two-spirit individuals in the future, as well as to get involved with other LGBTQ groups around the city.
She said sometimes the Indigenous experience gets pushed aside and she wants them to be more involved and visible. Teenagers too young for university are welcome to join if they have questions about being Indigenous and queer, McArthur said.
"It's a small group of people that we see you, we hear you, we love you."
Going back to her sacred bundle, McArthur said it's up to her generation to awaken it and say it's real and valid. She said it takes bravery to live authentically two-spirit and she hopes the group encourages people to be themselves.
"It's really just a matter of fact to say I love you and we can do this together. We can really bring change if we just keep talking about it, not to be afraid to talk about it."