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What Does It Mean To Be Two-Spirit? A Conversation With 2S Knowledge Seeker, Jaylenn Tourageau

Have you ever wondered what the 2S means in the acronym for 2SLGBTQ+? 2S stands for Two-Spirit, an English word created to define a unique spiritual way of being that has existed in Indigenous communities for millennia.

Today's guest on the Peyakoskan Podcast is a Two-Spirit Traditional Knowledge Keeper and caregiver of the Two-Spirit Medicine Bundle. They are an advocate on Self–Determination through the Dene Teachings they have been gifted and share their knowledge through their work as an academia researcher and advisor, as well as an international visual artist.

Kieara: How would you define Two-Spirit, and what does it mean to you?

Jaylenn: Two-Spirit was coined by a group of elders in Winnipeg in the nineties to give a term to the role that we play in Indigenous culture in our Nations, in our Tribes, in our own spiritual way of being. Two-Spirit, if we were to put it in the language of my tribe, the Chipewyan people of Łútsël K’é, it would have to be "Inkonze"—the closest I can come to translating—it can mean two things, either somebody's shadow or someone who knows something.

So, to me, it's the second part that I relate to more in that the knowledge that I hold from my experiences, from the teachings I’ve been given and my perspective and how I relate to those teachings in my own life and journey. For me, Two-Spirit is the umbrella term, but if you were to delve into your own background, your own heritage, your own language, you may just find the answer of what that means to you.

Two-Spirit is a distinctive term that reflects who we are as Indigenous people from the Colonial mainstream. For us to—in a sense—reclaim our roles, our space, and our heritage, and reclaim our voice as a distinctive culture, and people, in where we are today.

Kieara: Can you tell me a little bit about Two-Spirit identity?

Jayleen: Two-Spirit identity encompasses not just your sexual orientation of how you were born. It also encompasses a deeper sense of being. For myself personally, it's the ability to walk between two worlds. Two-Spirit, from the Indigenous perspective, encompasses a deeper sense of understanding of oneself, a deeper sense of understanding how the interconnected relationships between the work that we do, regardless of whether it's male or female, a deeper sense and connection to spirit.

Two-Spirit Flag

What I was gifted with by an Elder is that in pre-colonial

Keiria Hommy, Podcast Host

times when a child was welcomed into the community, to the family or to the tribe, there was ceremony. The Elder or the person who was presiding over this welcoming ceremony would speak to the child’s spirit, and the spirit would say, “I'm Two-Spirit,” or whichever language that proved they’re from Cree, Dene, Salish, etc., and this child would be welcomed and it would be a great honor and a sacred responsibility for not just to be such, but for the whole community to embrace this being who was able to weave in and out of two various roles in the community from raising children, parental responsibilities, or however you want to define that role, to hunting with war parties protecting the tribe, the families, communities, to peacemaking, being part of ceremony, depending upon what it was or what that entailed—leading people spiritually. There was no separation between.

Osh-Tisch, John K. Hillers, Image Courtesy of: Smithsonian Institute/John H. Fouch/F.A. Rinehart, Image Courtsey of Omaha Public Library)

You learn the gathering and hunting and trapping, medicine-picking and learning the healing, etc. So, you take that into the context. Now, where we are currently, in many ways we’re still doing that, but we're doing it in a different way because of Colonialism, because of Residential School, because of the violence against us.

Every 2Spirit Child Matters

Us, as Two-Spirit people are reclaiming our sense of self, our sense of identity, our role within this sacred hoop, but it's also helping reclaim the balance between both male and female and honoring both sides of who we are, and also helping restore the balance within our relationships with self, family, community, nations, the land, everything.

Kieara: How do you feel about Non-Indigenous people using Two-Spirit to identify themselves?

Jaylenn: Some would say, “Well, you should be honored.” For me, it's a form of cultural appropriation. For many of us who are still working through our own sense of identity, that would be the first response. It's a form of cultural appropriation and I get that. We've seen it in the media and stories in the newspaper, etc. Two months ago, I read about somebody in the States trying to claim it and they did not have any connection to being Native American because I was in the U.S. at the time that I read this, which I'm not surprised by. So, in a sense, with that, I could get aggressive.

Natal Bolanos & Jaylenn Tourangeau celebrating the Two-Spirit Flag

But that's not going to help. It's simply going to add fuel to the fire that has already been burning, if you want to put it that way, for quite a while. When it comes to non-Indigenous people, if we step back and look at this in a different way—are also looking for a better sense of self. It's them trying to find that connection in the same way we are as Two-Spirit people, as Indigenous. We're trying to find that sense of self. It's being willing to lead from the heart and not to ego. If you're using Two-Spirit because you don't know any better or you're don't have the connections to those teachings, then it's understandable and that's okay because that's just you wanting to learn but not understanding, and that happens a lot. If you're doing it just to fit in or the whole jumping on the bandwagon ideology and in a sense not caring, then it is an issue.

Jaylenn Tourangeau sharing their story on the Peyakoskan Podcast

So, it depends upon what is their intent behind using it. Is it because they don't know and it's the only term at this time that they're using that might be a jumping start for them to find their own identity? But if it's out of pure not caring, I guess then that's when you need to step in and say, “No.” This is what it means, and this is what I have been taught. This is where allyship comes in and where proactive kindness comes in, by saying, “This is where you need to stop.” In a sense, draw the line of where these boundaries are within. Because with that, it's switching it from a form of aggression to teaching something to another if they are willing to listen openly without going on the defensive because they didn't know. I'd been there. I've done that, but does that mean I'm right in doing that? No, it's because it was the only way I knew. It was a trauma response.

That's one of the biggest things I’ve had to learn about myself, is recognizing those trauma responses when it comes to who I am on my own journey, and instead of giving in to them, working with it. I can understand how wanting to use the term Two-Spirit could be easily romanticized. It sound romantic, and that’s okay. I get it. I'm not going to say that it doesn't sound romantic because that's what we've all grown up with. This romantic ideology of what Indigenous is or what it means. The sugar-coated truth. Now we're being pushed into the actual reality of what history was not. This ideal notion of the lies that we’re told because of the fact that it basically means admitting you're wrong, that how you approached your relationship to these people was not okay, and also being able to understand that I can act like the ones who oppressed me or I can change my approach and take the higher road in recognizing that I don't have to follow their path. I have my own journey and I choose to walk that but use those gifts and everything that I have been given to teach and pass on what I know to the next generation in hopes that when I pass from here, it's going to remove those barriers that are, at this time, still in place.

Kieara: How can the Indigenous community honor Two-Spirit people reclaiming their identity?

Jaylenn Tourangeau celebrating Pride Month in their custom made Ribbon Shirt

Jaylenn: With that, it's listening. Being willing to not just listening but being willing to seek others outside of the community for that knowledge, for those teachings, and to be willing to be uncomfortable. Be willing to face their own sense of history, especially when it comes to the Residential Schools, with the idea of gender separation and the idea that to be Two-Spirit or be LGBTQ+ is not okay and being willing to fight those feelings and willing to step into that and not back, willing to meet us where we're at on our journey and willing to recognize that as Two-Spirit people, we were brought here to these communities or to these families for a reason, that there is something we’re meant to be here to help teach, to help bridge the gap, to help change history, to help undo what the damage that has happened to us historically, and to be willing to offer a different way of seeing and being, and willing to uplift everyone around us and understand that we're not going anywhere. We've always been here. We were never gone. That is and will always be the truth.

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