Surviving at the intersection of queer and Indigenous is no small feat.
For Lyndon George, as a gender divergent Indigenous person who grew up in the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, it all starts with a name.
Speaking at the Niagara Regional Native Centre’s Rainbow Warriors talk last Wednesday evening, George, a two-spirit Indigenous rights activist, said much is lost in the English version of his name.
In fact, the name Lyndon George holds little meaning to him.
In Anishinaabe, he is Nawalka Geeshy Meegwun, the closest translation of which is “Longfeather.”
And like all Indigenous names it tells a story.
George says his community saw in him a child “with great big feathers for arms, always wanting to protect our people.”
So the name tells the story of this great, feather-armed child with a drive to protect people.
And that became a part of George’s role in the community.
Today, George is the Indigenous justice co-ordinator at the Hamilton legal clinic and regrets that he can’t make it to Niagara-on-the-Lake more often.
George is often too busy helping Indigenous people navigate a legal system he says was “built that we should never exist here in 2022.”
Rin Simon, the language revitalization program co-ordinator at the native centre, described the talk as a “gathering space for two-spirit and LGBTQ people.”
Like George, Simon is two-spirit and identifies with neither masculine nor feminine pronouns.
What two-spirit means is deeply personal to Simon but they said there are still some “hard and fast rules” to its meaning.
Basically it is a gender identity that intersects with Indigenous identities, Simon said.
“I’m not saying that I have two spirits. I have one spirit, but it has many elements to it,” they said in an interview.
Simon said we all have a masculine and feminine side, but two-spirit folk blend them together more than others.
A diverse crowd including children, parents and seniors came out for coffee, pizza and good company for the Wednesday night talk.
While there, they had an honest discussion of the issues affecting Indigenous and 2S LGBTQ+ people.
“We had no concept traditionally in our communities of homophobia,” George explained in an interview.
Homophobia was passed from colonial settlers to Indigenous communities through systems like residential schools, George added.
“The biggest challenge with homophobia came the ability to access and to reclaim traditional two-spirit ceremonies.”
Cultural ceremonies and community roles are an integral part of the two-spirit identity for George.
He describes being excluded from them as “devastating.”
On the topic of pronouns, George described himself as a bit controversial.
“Pronouns haven’t been a part of Indigenous history ever,” he said.
Simon agreed, saying the lack of pronouns is because “gender does not exist” within Anishinaabe and therefore, “does not exist in (their) culture.”
George was clear. He is not against people using pronouns but for George, “pronouns just don’t work.”
They were part of a language forced on George by a foreign culture.
“Many of our communities have anywhere from 15 to 17 different terms to help us identify the different genders,” George said.
He counted out 11 different genders identified in the LGBTQ+ acronym, or as he fondly called, “the gay alphabet.”
“You guys are just catching up,” George said amid laughter from the listeners.
The group spoke about the loss of their mother tongue at length.
Simon, now 24, says they are still learning their own language.
One of the explicit purposes of the residential school system was to stamp out Indigenous languages.
That experience has become an intergenerational trauma in Indigenous communities and has cut many people off from their mother tongues.
Simon is part of an effort to revitalize Indigenous languages at the native centre.
George and his listeners were quick to laugh, despite the weight of the discussion.
As George shared his ceremonial regalia, he explained that traditionally men would wear “a ribbon shirt” and that traditional ribbon skirts would have a “small floral pattern.”
“I’m not a small floral pattern kind of guy,” George said, calling attention to the long train on his ribbon skirt.
This drew some laughs and smiles from the crowd.
“Humour is what we employ as Indigenous groups, regardless where you come from, to get through those difficult and traumatic times,” George said in an interview outside the centre.
The group parted ways after sharing a traditional gift with George.
Several of the children in attendance played hopscotch on the floor tiles on their way back outside, where the sun had been replaced by a cloudy night sky.