We’ve got spirit, yes we do; we’ve got spirit, up to two!

Halifax Pride takes on the complex Two-Spirit identity.

click to enlarge The Mi’kmaq are one of several First Nations that recognize Two-Spirit identities. - LARA LEWIS
Lara Lewis
The Mi’kmaq are one of several First Nations that recognize Two-Spirit identities.

Queer Perspectives: Redefining Two-Spirit Identity
Thursday, July 27, 12-1pm
Halifax City Hall
1841 Argyle Street

This year's Halifax Pride Festival is looking to centre Indigenous experiences with its panel lecture, Redefining Two-Spirit Identity.

The lecture will be led by Margaret Robinson, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University's department of sociology and social anthropology. Beyond her academic experience, Robinson also has personal experience with the topic—she's Two-Spirit herself, hailing from Eski'kewaq and a member of Lennox Island First Nation.

Two-Spirit is a modern umbrella term for a variety of non-binary gender identities with roots in pre-colonial societies across Turtle Island, and represents the "2S" in the queer acronym.

Although Robinson has done formal studies on Two-Spirit identities, she embraces all kinds of informal perspectives as well.

"I hope my talk can raise questions about what it means for us to identify as Two-Spirit, how we might see our gender as an Indigenous gender and how our lived experiences might be different than those of our ancestors," she writes in an email. "I have opinions based on my research, but the conversation needs to involve people with knowledge beyond the academic."

Robinson is very aware of the importance of addressing Two-Spirit-specific issues, in part due to the sheer size of the community.

"Since Two-Spirit emerged as an identity, it's been embraced by a lot of native people," she says. "It's a complex identity."

According to Robinson, understanding the Two-Spirit identity is as important as ever at this anniversary of Confederation.

"Two-Spirit identity encourages us to root our understandings of sex, gender and sexuality in our Indigenous traditions," she says. "But Two-Spirit is also a new identity that pushes us to think about how our experiences relate to identities such as genderqueer, trans or queer."

The lecture, one in a series of talks titled Queer Perspectives, is a lunchtime learning opportunity being held at City Hall. It's being moderated by new Halifax resident Nivie Singh, who wants to structure the lecture as more of a conversation.

"I'm really interested in community and having dialogue," they say. "I think that communities need to engage in that conversation."

Originally from Ontario, Singh is cautious about their place in this conversation.

"I want to be mindful to the fact that I am a new community member," they say. Indigenous-settler reconciliation is a hot topic right now, and Singh says this talk helps meet that goal—if only by a small step.

"There's a lot of work that goes into reconciliation," they admit. "I think this is, on a very surface level, opening up that conversation and making space for bridges to be made in order to get to reconciliation. I think this is a first step to start to make that bridge."

Robinson says a big part of this conversation will be determined by individual experience.

"You don't need a Ph.D," she says, "to have insight and wisdom around gender and sexuality."

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