Two-spirited people have existed throughout history in many First Nation communities across North America.
While they have always existed, it has not always been easy for people who identify as two-spirited individuals to come forward to their families about who they are. Members of the Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation hope to set a precedent for all other First Nation communities across Canada.
The Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation banded together on June 9 to host the first-ever Two Spirit and Pride parade on a reserve. On a beautiful prairie day, countless members of the community as well as chief and council walked from Dodgies Convenience Store to the band office at Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation.
Kevin Seesequasis, the councillor in charge of community development, and one of the first openly gay First Nation leaders in Canada, approached chief and council on May 30 about putting together the two spirit celebrations. A unanimous decision was made by chief and council to support Seesequasis’ proposal, and in a matter of days the parade was put together.
“Today is about all of us as we celebrate inclusivity and love in our community,” Seesequasis told a large crowd outside the band office Thursday.
“It’s my hope that today our festivities will allow other individuals who may be questioning their sexuality or who may be gender variant to feel safe and welcome within our community.”
Giselle Gotti-Chanel, the winner of Miss Gay Ottawa, a lifetime holder of the award, and member of Beardy’s Okemasis was present for the inaugural celebrations.
“Being part of this First Nation is an honour, especially now that they are having this parade to celebrate the two spirited members that are in our community,” Gotti-Chanel said.
“I think it helps all the children, youth and adults who want to come out of the closet.”
Gotti-Chanel has experienced her fair share of struggles through her life. Her sexuality was never openly discussed within her family or community while she was growing up, despite the fact she knew almost her entire life she was gay.
“Growing up, it wasn’t acceptable to be gay; it was always hidden and never talked about in the family, but now (the stigma is) broken in these families and I can see little kids coming out to their family members. It makes me proud to see that can happen,” Gotti-Chanel said after speaking in front of the band office.
While Gotti-Chanel and Seesequasis were two driving forces in the Two Spirit Parade, chief and council coming to a unanimous decision to make it happen was crucial to the event’s success.
“When Kevin came in with the Band Council Resolution it was no questions asked, ‘Yes, we’re going to do this,’ and we all signed the resolution. He called me ahead of time and I told him, ‘By all means, let’s go for it,” Chief Rick Gamble said.
“To me it’s about inclusion of our people who are two spirited and they don’t have to be in the closet. They can come out to the community and know that we love and support them,” he said.
“Our culture has always been one that is inclusive, and we’ve always treated people with respect no matter what sexual preferences they may have… It doesn’t matter who you are, we’ve all been touched by individuals that have this dilemma.”
After going through his own trials and tribulations, Seesequasis had supportive words for those who have not openly expressed their sexual orientation.
“The whole process is a journey, and it’s their own journey. If there are individuals who may be questioning their sexuality, or who may be gender variant here at Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation or other First Nations communities right across the country, they should know that our communities are very supportive. Take your time, and do what you need to do to discover that on your own, but most importantly feel love from your families,” he said.
Chief Gamble has received a few phone calls from other communities about putting on a similar event and even though none are fully planned out yet, more two spirited events may be on the horizon.
All the way from Ottawa, Justin Trudeau weighed in on the community celebrations through a letter to Seesequasis directly.
“This event is another important step forward in our fight for equality, but I hope we can recognize that we still have more work ahead of us,” Trudeau’s letter said.
Seesequasis echoed that sentiment throughout his speech, ending it off with a message of hope.
“My message to other communities is that it is 2016 now, and we have to ensure that everyone in our communities feels accepted and welcome,” Seesequasis said.
“I hope our community can embrace what we’ve done here today as historic, but more importantly I hope that we can embrace today and keep having celebrations like this.”