The Eeyou-Eenou 2-Spirited Invitational Conference was held on March 21st to March 23rd, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec. Mathias Jolly, also known as Maloose, organized the event for 2-Spirited participants and frontline workers to attend workshops and presentations. The main supporter and sponsor was the Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association (CWEIA) and other sponsors included the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB) and the Cree Nation Government - Department of Justice and Correctional Services. Topics ranged from the history of 2-Spirited People, Decolonization, HIV/AIDS awareness and much more.
The term 2-Spirit (2S) is the umbrella term for those who identify with having both a masculine and a feminine spirit. Indigenous people use this term to describe their sexuality and gender identity. As defined on the Researching for LGBTQ2S+ Health website: “[2-Spirit] may encompass same-sex attraction and a wide variety of gender variance, including people who might be described in Western culture as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, gender queer, cross-dressers or who have multiple gender identities.”
The first day of the conference was dedicated to the training of frontline workers. The presenter, Gina Metallic, Mi’gmaq Two-Spirited Social Worker, trained the frontline workers on the history of two-spirited people across Indigenous nations in North America. While telling her own coming out story, Metallic taught the participants about LGBTQ2S-inclusive language and gave examples of privileges that cis-gendered straight people have that LGBTQ2S people don’t, such as being able to be affectionate in public. Metallic also spoke about how the frontline workers can best support LGBTQ2S clients.
“We want equality in Eeyou Istchee.” said Bella Moses Petawabano, Chairperson of the CBHSSJB. “Part of our goal at the CBHSSJB is to treat people with respect, empathy, trust and dignity. Through these conferences and trainings, we are creating stronger connections as people. I was unfortunately not able to attend, however, we are proud to support the 2-Spirited community in Eeyou Istchee.”
The second and third day were for 2-spirited participants and their family, friends and allies. Heavier topics were all scheduled for the 2nd day to create an emotional curve. “We purposely put all the emotional workshops in the middle so that the participants can leave at the end of the conference without feeling too upset” said Maloose.
On the second day, representatives from Ensemble Diversité gave a presentation on Homophobia. During their presentation, they explained the differences in the spectrums of gender identity and sexual identity. They also touched on the topic of how the roots of homophobia grow. After the Homophobia presentation, presenter, Harvey Michele spoke about his personal experience living with HIV/AIDS.
That afternoon, Maloose read excerpts from his book “Fragments” and also spoke about what he went through as a Cree 2-spirited person growing up in Mistissini. After Maloose’s readings, Rev’d Jean-Daniel Williams expressed that religion can coexist with being a part of the LGBTQ2S community. That evening, participants were invited to attend a Burlesque show and Trivia Game Night hosted by Kontak. Miami Minx, Drag Queen, performed for the participants in between trivia rounds that were related to sex and LGBTQ2S topics.
The third day started off with presenter, Jeffery McNeil, Indigenous activist and Associate Professor in Social Work at Ryerson University. He facilitated in activities addressing personal space. Counsellor, Diane Labelle, who was there during the conference to provide support to the participants, also organized an Art Therapy session with the participants and their families. Once everyone was finished, the mothers and grandmothers at the event were asked to stitch together all the canvases to create a banner to represent the past, present and future of the 2-Spirited community in Eeyou Istchee. A powerful and emotional speech was given by Irene B. House, representative of the Gookumnouch Council, to assure the youth that no matter who they love or whatever gender they identify as, they are loved and accepted.
The afternoon of the third day focused on strategic planning. The organizers of the event scheduled this into the agenda to gather input from the participants about what kind of support they would like to see in their own communities. Activities included building your ideal community and listing what is needed for physical, spiritual, mental health, family support and community support. After all the strategic planning activities were finished, Manon Richmond, Coordinator of the CWEIA, spoke of the importance of changing the narrative surrounding 2-Spirited people in Eeyou Istchee and requested 7 volunteers to join the newly created 2-Spirited committee. The committee will join Maloose to plan and execute future conferences and act as advocates in their communities.
A banquet was held in the evening and participants and their friends were invited to enjoy dinner at the venue as Jeffery McNeil presented his Keynote Address. McNeil spoke about how he started in Indigenous activism and his experience as a 2-Spirited Indigenous person. The night concluded with some photos and games.
“The conference was such a huge experience for me. It inspired me to take action towards a bright future for our 2-spirited people” said Luna Perusse-Pelchat, participant from Chisasibi.
“We need more awareness to show Cree youth that they are not alone. If people are struggling with internalized homophobia or do not have a supportive family, they are not alone” said Annie Decontie, participant from Mistissini. “It’s my hope that one day, a conference like this will not be seen as taboo within the Cree Nation. Love is love.”
Both Perusse-Pelchat and Decontie are in the new Eeyou-Eenou 2-Spirited committee. They are already discussing ideas for future conferences.