A Place in the Circle
Two Spirit (LGBTQ+) Leadership Symposium
For Two-Spirit identifying Métis folks, having a place in the circle is a historically significant and cherished right. Our Indigenous ancestors had long celebrated 2SLGBTQ+ individuals for their unique gifts and contributions; and today Métis continue to find ways to honour this “community within a community” for their valued insights and perspectives.
Last month, 42 individuals from across the province and the rainbow, met virtually to take part in the first annual Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Two-Spirit LGBTQ+ Leadership Symposium: A Place in the Circle. The day-long online event on February 20, 2021 featured several notable speakers, from MNO President Margaret Froh, to singer-songwriter Amanda Rheaume and Métis author Cherie Dimaline.
“I’m so glad we’re in a world now, where we can have a gathering like this,” said President Froh in her welcoming address. “Where we can see ourselves reflected, where we have the space to articulate who we are, what our challenges are, and a space where we can share all of that with one another.”
Sharing her own personal journey, President Froh also reflected on the value of leadership, a theme that underscored discussions that highlighted how, for Métis, true leadership doesn’t come from power or titles, it comes from a place of compassion, motivation, and a desire to help others in your community.
The symposium began with welcoming remarks by MNO Citizen Benny Michaud, who spoke to the incredible efforts of the Two-Spirit Working Group and allies, whose hard work made the event possible. The MNO’s Two-Spirit Working Group was born out of a 2016 AGA resolution that sought to establish a safe space for 2SLGBTQ+ Ontario Métis to meet, discuss and advance important issues impacting the community.
“Over the last three years, we’ve been bringing Métis Two-Spirit and LGBTQ folks from across the province together, and we’ve been having conversations about what resources our communities need to support our health and well being,” shared Benny. “And we’ve been able to work with folks within the MNO to create opportunities for learning and building awareness. It’s been a fantastic journey so far.”
“This is the coolest thing ever!” remarked singer-songwriter Amanda Rheaume. Amanda, who penned the MNO song “We Aspire”, shared some of her own journey navigating her Indigenous, queer and artistic identity. “After talking to [organizers] I feel so empowered, inspired and encouraged to share a bit of my story.”
The power of story-telling was also explored by Cherie Dimaline, Métis author of the Governor-General’s Award winning The Marrow Thieves, who discussed the value of queer narratives in literature.
“[When writing The Marrow Thieves] I wrote what I knew — a love story between two Indigenous men was the best thing that I could think of to share with community,” explained Cherie. “I think a lot about the queer community and the Indigenous community in terms of literature, separately and also, of course, where we intersect.”
The afternoon featured a panel discussion, “A Return to the Circle,” which focused on Two-Spirit resilience and reclamation with insight from a variety of speakers. Other highlights from the event include a video on Two-Spirit Awareness and a presentation on services provided by MNO Healing & Wellness. Following the formal conference, a beading workshop was held for 2SLGBTQ+ folks to keep the conversations going into the evening.
Participants shared how meaningful it was to develop and participate in a space that both empowers and fosters leadership within the 2SLGBTQ+ community. Everyone looked forward to future events. Organizers expressed gratitude for all attendees, especially those who had the courage to speak openly about their experiences:
“There is nothing more powerful than the gathering of voices,” shared Benny. “We haven’t had an opportunity like this in the past to come together as a community within a community and share our experiences. We are once again being valued in the way that we once were within our communities. We’ve come a long way, and Two-Spirit people are again, part of the circle.”