between the queer and indigenous communities in canada : a conversation  
The following does *not represent the views of all Canadian queers or all people working on native struggles (native people and their non-native supporters). My perspective is only that, my perspective.  

Basically, there are two connections that I am aware of between the queer communities and indigenous communities here. One is the many indigenous  activists that are two-spirited (a term used by many indigenous 'gay' people, as it is felt to be more close to the traditional terminology and sense than the word 'gay')/lesbian/gay/bisexual. The other is the non-indigenous queers who are involved in supporting indigenous sovereignty. There are a few groups that have been set up to create support  & advocacy for two-spirited people within North America. 

As far as I know, it is mostly an relationship between some non-native individual queers and native  movements, rather than a relationship between queer communities and native communities per se. For example, I am a gay female-to-male transsexual who has been working in a native solidarity movement since 1992, but there is no relationship between my gay/transgendered communities, as a whole, and  indigenous communities. (There are indigenous individuals in both those communities, and some of those individuals are active in native movements, while others aren't.)  

It has been interesting to see the response from non-native Australians to the Canadian government's quasi-apology for stealing native children and abusing them in residential schools and 'foster care' programs. Response here has been mixed. Some people feel it is a real step forward. Others think it's empty words. It is certainly very cautious, as the government doesn't want to admit any legal liability, which could translate into  financial liability depending on the outcome of the many lawsuits that are pending.  

I have not been able to find much information except for one article on the Berdache and some interesting material on black/gay relations in the US. 

There are a number of writers who are very important. I am most familiar  with female writers, as that was my primary community before I started the process of the sex change - I don't yet know much about the queer male communities here.   

In terms of North American two-spirited/lesbian/bi indigenous writers and activists, the ones that come to mind are Chrystos, Beth Brant, Ana Castillo, and Gloria Anzaldua. The group Gay American Indians (GAI) was founded in the '80s, by a woman named Barbara Cameron, but I don't know if it is still around. 

Some other important authors include: Joy Harjo, Janice Gould, Mary Moran, Kateri Sardella, Percy Lezard, Vickie Sears, and Lisa Kahaleole Chang Hall.  

In terms of North American transgendered resources, one of the most prolific activists who is gay and indigenous is a female-to-male  transsexual named Gary Bowen. 

why do you think that those organised queer communities have not been involved?Is this because 'their' issues are seen as more pressing?Is it because people like yourself have chosen to place their energies with the indigenous movement rather than changing queer communities? 

I think that it is a matter of:  

  • persistent racism within all communities that are predominantly white,  including gay/lesbian/bi communities, and more specifically a wilfull  ignorance of and disinterest in the struggles of indigenous communities amongst white activists;
  • a perception that gay/lesbian/bi issues are totally unrelated to land struggles, which here is a main focus of indigenous activism;
  • many indigenous communities here that are active as communities are  rural, whereas most queer activism tends to be urban-based (and where there  is overlap, it seems to be in the cities around issues such as HIV/AIDS, although HIV is growing incredibly fast on rural reserves)
  • some indigenous communities are still quite homophobic thanks to Christian colonization; this has made it difficult for some  two-spirited/gay/lesbian/bi indigenous activists to stay in their home area (this has been an issue expressed by activists in the Pacific Northwest, don't know if it's true for other areas)
  • most indigenous communities here are focussed on survival, whereas much of mainstream gay/lesbian/queer activism, with the exception of issues around HIV/AIDS, is seen to be focussed on less survival-oriented issues (e.g. ability to marry, ability to be in the military); also indigenous movements and communities tend to be totally broke whereas queer movements tend to be relatively affluent, esp. gay male movements (not so true of dyke communities, but I think that there is a perception & a reality around class that creates division)
  • many non-native queers who are active supporters of native struggles have found it more effective to do that organizing outside queer movements. Without outing any other people, I can tell you that most of the non-native  people I have worked with in support of native struggles are gay, lesbian, or bisexual -- none of us, as far as I'm aware, have done that organizing from within a specifically queer political framework.
What is the attitude of the black and anti-racist movements in Canada towards indigenous people? Are the links made? 

That is a HUGE question that I will try to answer somewhat concisely.  

Generally speaking, there are several threads to anti-racist movements here. There are groups that organize specifically by 'race' - so there are black groups, Asian groups, etc. There are coalitions of anti-racist groups  that tend to include people of various heritages and skin colors; from what  I have seen these tend to not work on issues that are specifically related  to indigenous activism per se, but more on issues of police violence,  immigration (and there is a lot of tension in some communities between  immigrant rights activists and indigenous activists, which is a whole  'nother story), media depictions, etc. There are white anti-racist activists who tend to focussed on either organized racism (neo-nazis) or  mainstream 'multiculturalism'. From what I have seen, very few groups that  bill themselves as 'anti-racist' have done consistent long-term work to  support indigenous struggles.  

Again, some of this is because many indigenous struggles here focus on land rights, and that is not a shared struggle with other groups of people of  color here. There is a particular type of anti-native racism which occurs within all non-native communities, including communities of people of color  (as there is anti-Asian prejudice that occurs within native communities,  tension between Asian and black communities, etc. Nothing is simple.)  

Urban indigenous organizing has, to the best of my knowledge, tended to  focus more on service provision than on coalition work with anti-racist groups, but that has changed somewhat around issues like AIDS, sex trade  work, police violence, etc.  

Has the AIDS pandemic assisted the emergence of organised 'gay' indigenous communities (as it decidedly has here)? 

My work has been almost solely with indigenous sovereigntists, who are primarily rurally-based (with a few urban exceptions). So I don't really have an accurate sense of what is happening in the cities, especially around alliances between groups over issues like AIDS.  

From my perspective the focus on AIDS so far, at least in Canada, has been on urban areas. Now people are realizing that it is spreading like wildfire to the reserves, by people who move between cities and reserves. So there are strategies that are developing around that.  

My perception is that it is writing and academia primarily that has brought together 'gay' indigenous activists, who have then sought to form 'gay'  indigenous communities. On a grassroots level, the only 'gay' indigenous communities I've seen have been among sex trade workers and prisoners, but  then those are the groups I do my other work with, so that's what I'm most  familiar with.  

Joshua Goldberg 


(this is edited from email between Joshua Goldberg and the Site Maintainer)  
Joshua works with Settlers In Support of Sovereignty (SISIS) and has been working in support of native sovereignty since 1992  


ALSO: why 'Berdache' is offensive and some definitions of 'Two-Spirit' 

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