Forging supportive and meaningful connections is more challenging than ever in 2024. The Nogojiwanong Two-Spirit Circle is a great example of creating a community and fostering a sense of belonging. Thanks to the generous support from the Fund for Gender Equality, this initiative not only celebrates Indigenous traditions but also nurtures a safe space where Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer individuals can gather, learn, and reclaim their identities in a community that validates their existence.

Since 2019, the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough is fortunate to have taken part in the Fund for Gender Equality, a national program dedicated to charities advancing gender equality across Canada led by participating community foundations, Community Foundations of Canada, and the Equality Fund, with support from the federal government.

Locally, one recipient of this funding is the First Peoples House of Learning (FPHL), Trent University, which used its support in collaboration with Nogojiwanong Friendship Centre (NFC) and Lovesick Lake Native Women’s Association (LLNWA) to create the Nogojiwanong Two-Spirit Circle.

“There are a lot of over-simplified definitions for ‘Two-Spirit’ floating around out there on the internet,” Em Feltham Day, Gender Diverse Indigenous Mentor, Nogojiwanong Friendship Centre explained. “The truth is that Two-Spirit isn’t easily defined. Mainstream Western terms that define experiences of gender and sexual diversity, like Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, etc., have fairly fixed definitions, but the term Two-Spirit isn’t trying to define a particular gender or sexuality. Two-Spirit isn’t a gender or sexual identity.”

Two-Spirit is a term most commonly used to describe gender and sexual diversity for Indigenous people in a way that honours traditional and cultural understandings of gender and sexuality that existed in Indigenous nations before contact with Europeans. It is a modern term that recognizes that before the devastating impacts of colonization, many Indigenous cultures respected gender and sexual diversity, and the impacts of colonization resulted in the loss of those traditions in many communities. “Being Two-Spirit isn’t just a short-hand for being Indigenous and LGBTQQIA+,” Em said, “nor does every Two-Spirit person have ‘both male and female spirits.’”

The Nogojiwanong Two-Spirit Circle creates a space for Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer people to gather together, share a meal, and an activity, usually a craft. The Circle generates community connections between Two-Spirit people in a safe and affirming space. Each partner organization serves a different group: the urban Peterborough Indigenous community, the rural Indigenous community, and post-secondary Indigenous students. “We wanted a way to bring all Two-Spirit people in the region together, be they urban, rural, or students, of all ages,” Em explained.

“We’ve done a variety of cultural activities with participants from diverse backgrounds,” said Angeni Lovelady, the Two-Spirit program coordinator at FPHL. “Our youngest participant is ten, and our oldest started in their fifties. This intergenerational opportunity has been such a gift. The impact of seeing someone in their forties, who may have children, and a whole life they’re not sure they’re allowed to have, is profound.”

The program has fostered strong community connections. “Initially, participants only attended Two-Spirit-specific events. Over the past year, I’ve seen them out in the community, wearing their sweaters, beaded pins, and other items they’ve made, with pride. They actively support each other, and I’m pretty sure all of them walked in the pride parade last year,” Angeni noted.

“It is very rare and precious for Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer people to be able to simply be together.” Em said. Within the context of growing anti-queer and anti-trans rhetoric in our city, in Canada, and globally as well as too common anti-Indigenous sentiment, simply being who one is, unapologetically and in solidarity with others, is a powerful form of resistance that the Foundation is honoured to support.

Connect with First Peoples House of Learning here.

Connect with Nogojiwanong Friendship Centre here.

Connect with Lovesick Lake Native Women’s Association here.