Chapter 5: Grief in Indigenous LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit communities
Individual and shared grief
I felt like I had to educate healthcare staff about both being Indigenous and Two-Spirit. They asked questions like, “‘Is your wife a lesbian?” and “Tell us what Two-Spirit is.” They were interested, but why don’t they have Indigenous people coming in to do workshops and training? They could be working with friendship centres.
As an Indigenous LGBTQ+ or Two-Spirit person in Canada, you may grieve many losses that are unique to your circumstances. Some of the consequences of this include the loss of cultural identity; community; and familial, clan, and other relationships. Some of these are described below. Click on each phrase to read more.
Indigenous people who would now be considered 2SLGBTQ+ were once accepted and integrated as valued members of their families and communities. As a result of Euro-Christian colonization, many Indigenous Peoples and societies lost touch with traditional ways of understanding gender and sexual identities as varied and serving complex societal roles. For many 2SLGBTQ+ Indigenous people, this has meant ongoing discrimination, suffering, and exclusion.
If you are an Indigenous person who does not identify as LGBTQ+ or Two-Spirit, the loss of traditional understandings and values may mean that you, your family, friends, or community may be struggling with how to accept and integrate 2SLGBTQ+ people fully into important aspects of community life, such as in ceremony or other shared events and practices. This can be especially difficult when there has been a death.
If you’re an Indigenous person who has lost some or all of your connections with your family or community of origin because of discrimination based on your 2SLGBTQ+ identity, this has likely been deeply painful for you. The need to be understood and accepted may have led you to leave your First Nation, Inuit, or Metis community or family in search of a sense of safety and belonging elsewhere. You may struggle to understand who you are when familial and community ties have been broken.
Whether or not you’ve been able to find or create a new community or family for yourself, there may be times when old wounds are reopened. This might be because of the death of someone in your old community or because you’re nearing the end of your own life. Perhaps you wish to participate in a ceremony that honours the person who has died. It is also possible that you want to die where you were born. If these things aren’t possible, for example, because you would be shamed, rejected, or required to deny your 2SLGBTQ+ identity, you may have deep feelings of grief and disconnection.
If you are grieving the death of an Indigenous 2SLGBTQ+ person, you may feel a lack of support or recognition for your grief. You may also feel that you, the person who died, and your relationship with the person are not respected. If their family or community of origin does not accept their 2SLGBTQ+ identity and is in charge of funeral or other arrangements, you may be excluded or not feel free to participate.
These losses can run deep, affecting your day-to-day life, and you may find little support and understanding for your grief. If you are an Indigenous person, your personal grief is likely to be deeply embedded in the collective grief of all Indigenous people.
What may help
- Look for ways to connect with other Indigenous LGBTQ+ or Two-Spirit people and to learn about traditional views of gender and sexuality.
- If you’re without acceptance or support within your family or community of origin, you may be able create a “chosen family.”
- Similarly, you may connect with a community, if not Indigenous and 2SLGBTQ+, then perhaps an Indigenous community that accepts and embraces you as you are, or a 2SLGBTQ+ community that is truly inclusive to Indigenous people.
- Explore online supports and resources for Indigenous LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit people.
- By reflecting on ways your own grief is connected to that of other Indigenous Peoples, you may feel less alone and learn how others have found ways to live with their losses.