Smudge, Don’t Judge: Assisting Two Spirit/Trans Survivors of Violence

A No More Silence Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project collaboration.

No More Silence collaborated with Maggie’s Toronto Sex Worker Action Project to create a resource for service providers to assist them in providing better care to Indigenous community members who have survived violence. The resource addresses the transphobia and homophobia that Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non-Binary Indigenous people often experience when they seek services.

Audrey Huntley and Monica Forrester conducted lunch and learns to introduce the project to community members (both service providers and service recipients) and garner feedback on the barriers and challenges they face.

Aboriginal Legal Service is a community partner and has provided space and will conduct legal information workshops for project participants.

Check out these teaser/trailers!

Here are the full-length interviews with Alex Wilson, Teddy Syrette and Monica Forrester.

Click for transcript

Two Spirit is a term that came about in the early 1990s so a very recent term in relation to how long our indigenous languages have been around. The term is a reference to an identity but also a community …. A social movement around sexual and gender diversity.  It’s not synonymous with saying trans or lesbian or gay or bi – it’s a term that has a number of different contexts meanings but and the term is changing as well it’s contextual not definitive…. People may use the term queer so Indigenous people particularly people who didn’t grow up in an urban area they may have not heard the term Two Spirit before so if people are using that term it could be confusing. A term that people may use is gay or non-binary or fag there are many different terms that people will use and they may not be necessarily terms that are appropriate that people will find appropriate but in some small communities that’s the only term that they may know in English so to resist judgement on the kinds of vocabulary that people have is really important.


In many cultures like in the English or French language things are organized around male and female or masculine and feminine but in many if not most Indigenous languages that’s not how the world is organized. The world is organized around spirituality or spirit. So you already have a difference in world views. So if somebody is raised in a setting where their gender isn’t necessarily set in stone, where they’re allowed to, encouraged to play a host of different genders or gender importances and then they’re put in a setting where there is a very strict gender code or people are regulated or moved or divided in rooms by a strict binary then it can be really uncomfortable.


Some people have returned to their Indigenous languages to find what terminology has been used as descriptors for people who are non-binary or for people who are gender fluid like water there gender change from day to day or over time.


The term Two Spirit is empowering for a lot of people because it recognizes that a person is not just one thing. So it’s many things that connect – it connects to land, it connects to spirituality, it connects to your relations, it connects to your spirit, it connects to gender and it can connect to sexuality. So all those things are a part of what it means to be Two Spirit. So it’s not just one strand it’s a whole bunch of strands that come together.


One of the first things that happened when European explorers came to North America is that they were really confused by a range of genders that appeared in the Indigenous peoples especially in the first places that they landed in the Caribbean. In their fear and confusion there response was most often violence against people that they did not understand. So very quickly Indigenous communities saw and realized so what would you do if you knew that your identify was something that was being targeted by people that were coming in with violence you would either hide or you would hide who you were or you would internalize it, take it out on yourself, enact violence on yourself or maybe people in the community would internalize it as well and enact violence on you.


So that’s what we are dealing with today a phenomenon or a crisis where we are seeing Indigenous not just Indigenous Two Spirit queer youth but also adults and Elders committing suicide at really high rates and so rates have not changed over the past 25 years that I’ve been looking into this as a focussed research.


So there’s been a massively intense focus of violence on certain bodies through institutions of social control that control our everyday activities things that people have to interact with every day like the health care system, like the transit system like the legal system, child and family services maybe so each of those are an institution that in some way controls the way we behave every day or act every day and if you think about little acts of aggression or violence -micro aggression they are called and the cumulative effect on a body – it’s not like little by little people can kind of dissipate it it’s kind of like the cumulative effect is traumatic for many people so that’s the kind of violence that Two Spirit people are dealing with in almost every system that you can imagine in a city, in our own communities, in our own first nations, in rural areas and remote areas.


In terms of interpersonal violence one of the most profound and disturbing statements I’ve ever heard was made by Aboriginal Australian queer researcher Andy Farrel and in his doctoral research he was interviewing trans and queer identified Indigenous Australians and one of the respondents said in terms of meeting a new person that they didn’t know if they were going to kiss them or kill them. For those of us who have been a part of the queer Two Spirit community specifically that statement is such truth to that because many of us have ourselves experienced violence from an intimate partner or from a family member or even more shocking is from a lover or a potential lover it’s not a statement that’s unfamiliar to many of us because we know the reality of the lives that we’ve led and that our friends have led in terms of intimate partner violence even violence from family members, community members, and then violence from potential lovers as well has led to deaths of many of our friends and that’s one of the reasons why the issue of MMIW should include Two Spirit and trans people in that spectrum because often it’s just accepted that people should experience violence because of their identity.


I have a number of friends who have experienced violence but I’ve also had a number of friends who were murdered and four three of them in particular they were murdered by strangers, strangers who they potentially or had been in sexual encounters with and I think that for trans and Two Spirit people the level of violence from complete strangers is even something that people have to think about even when they’re walking down the street so gay bashing or trans bashing are very common forms of violence that we face.


Another level of violence that is enacted on the bodies of Two Spirit and trans Indigenous people happens when they go to seek help from a mainstream or even an Indigenous organization is that when they are not believed often, they’re questioned – they’re behaviours are questioned, they’re identities are questioned, their gender is questioned. So that kind of questioning is a form of silencing is a form of distancing it’s a form of marginalizing people. Many people don’t go to mainstream organizations for assistance first of all and when they do they are very reluctant to or don’t feel safe in many instances. So it’s really important that a person is validated in the identity that they present or the identity that they wish to be that they are that any kind of service provider should be aware that they may be the only person that that person is coming to or will have contact to so it’s a pivotal and powerful position to be in if someone comes to and shares that they have experienced violence because you have the power to direct the potential impact of helping that person heal or continue with some kind of legal process to try and find out the perpetrater or to try and make some kind of policy change even.


one of the things that’s really important is to make sure that you validate the person’s identity so whatever pronouns they use, whether it be he, she or they or some other pronoun to honour that and accept that as the way the person identifies and along the lines of that not to make assumptions about somebody’s gender identity or sexuality based on their appearance, based on their affect, based on their personality.


Another common thing is that many people when they throughout their life span may change their name and they choose to change their name for a reason and sometimes the choice is not so much a choice but it’s out of survival and necessity and for people that do have a name change whether it’s legal or not or whether they just do it informally within their family or personal circles it’s really important to honour and validate the name that that person chooses to use so whether it’s after a person is deceased even or while the person is alive it’s important to honour that because that is the name that they have taken for themselves or been given through ceremony or some other way that they’ve taken that name. Some people refer to the old name as a dead name others may not use that term but just to be aware of the terminology that you may hear.


An anti-oppressive framework is a way to understand all of the inter connections that happen and impact a person or a group of people so an anti-oppressive approach would be understanding that there are all of these things that come together and that you have to look at all of those factors you can’t just look at one factor so that would be how class impacts somebody, how a person’s looks, a person’s size, skin colour, their cultural background, where they live, their accent, gender, sexuality. All of those things intersect to make a person a person. So an anti-oppressive approach is understanding that each of those things is situated within a power structure. So looking at how power structures work is a necessity to understand how to undo power structures so that power is equalized within society. So there’s a basic kind of understanding that there is no equality in the society that we are living in right now, there’s some people have more power while others have less power and the people who have the most power are the ones that are making decisions for everybody because of their power so an anti-oppressive approach is to unpack that and then to try and undo that through policies, through day to day interactions, through information and education, campaigns, grassroots networks, even through spiritual and ceremonial practices as well.


In Canada over the past 20 years there’s been this narrative of everybody’s equal Canada’s a diverse place to be and if we just respected everybody everything would change well the truth is that would happen if people just respected each other but the reality is that there’s so many different power structures that are happening that that doesn’t happen certain people keep benefiting while others keep getting pushed down so at the heart of it though in interpersonal interactions respect and empathy I think go along away and ultimately that’s what we want all of us want to be treated as equal human beings or as human beings that are special and gifted and loving and deserving of love and deserving of life and joy.


Speaking to a community member, an Indigenous community member or a colleague or even a ceremonial leader from my personal experience I think from my personal experience as a community member in the Two Spirit community and many Indigenous communities including my home community I think it’s really important that Elders, ceremonial leaders, cultural people and even our leadership in our FNs really pay serious attention to the needs of Two Spirit and trans people but also what they are asking for and saying, in particular, around cultural events or cultural activities if there is one place that all of us should feel entirely ourselves that is in our own cultures, that is in our own communities and in our own ceremonies I think that’s the one right that we have as living sentient beings that we have the right to our own traditions that we have the right to our own cultures but unfortunately because of colonization many people have internalized western ideas or notions or residential school ideas about gender about sexuality and have implemented those ideas in our ceremonies and even some of our ceremonies maybe they are old traditions but if an old tradition in this contemporary context is causing somebody harm it’s really important in a kind and gentle way think about how you might change your own practice. How can you change something so that it’s not causing harm.


A difficult and sensitive conversation that all of us need to have is around how sometimes our own cultural activities and ceremonies might exclude or make some people feel not welcome or minimized and if there is any one place where each and every one of us should feel grounded and like we belong it’s within our own spiritual ceremonies. So we have to have these important conversations in a loving and gentle way with our peers and with our cultural leaders to think about how our own ceremonial and cultural practices whether they are helping people but how they also might be harming people and whether a tradition is new or whether it’s happened for generations and generations if something is harming a community member then I think we need to really think about how we can make changes to that practice so that it can be life giving rather than leading to life taking.


The degree to which colonization has impacted our own practices is really insidious to the extent where some people feel like just the presence of someone who is Two Spirit is going to desecrate a sacred space or a woman being present is going to desecrate a sacred space well we have been on this planet for a long enough time to know that we women don’t desecrate sacredness and Two Spirit people don’t desecrate sacredness even though the term Two Spirit is recent the identity of Two Spirit people or gender non binary or gender queer or gender fluid queer people have been on the planet just as long as everybody else in fact we are part of humanity so for some people to say that the presence of a Two Spirit person in a ceremony is desecrating a sacred space is a really poignant demonstration of how people internalize the messages of violence against queer people and Two Spirit trans people from the broader society, from Abrahamic religions and other forces that have been assimilated and that have forced upon us through governmental policy but to remember that if a person hears once that their body is not sacred or if a person hears twice that they don’t belong somewhere or if a person hears three times that their presence is contaminating things you know those things add up and it doesn’t take long it only takes the first time hearing that people start to internalize that. I think the real question that people have to ask themselves as service providers, as FNs leaders as ceremonial leaders is your practice helping if so how or is it harming and if it’s harming what changes can you make so that’s it’s helping.


one of the most effective strategies for supporting trans and Two Spirit or gender non binary people is to suspend your judgement around their bodies, around their actions, around their behaviours, around their lifestyles, around what they do during the day around what they do during the night because every single aspect of our lives has been regulated either through policy or through people’s practices so in order to support a loving and healthy community we need everybody to think about how they can support one another rather than judging. I like the saying smudge don’t judge and part of that is an approach that is not going to make people feel ashamed or shamed by what they do or who they’re with or what they put in their body or what they put in their mouth or … laughs … fantasy life ….


It’s important to take a harm reduction approach which means thinking about how practices can cause less harm rather than judging people and regulating every aspect of their lives.


for many Two Spirit identified people they’ve had to connect from their biological family either by choice or the were taken by the state or because of violence not choice so for many of us within the community our family is our chosen family so we choose who we want to be with who we want to spend our time with, who we trust, who we love. the term I like to use is coming in. creating a community of your own that may have some biological family members or may not as well so it’s really important to realize that when you contact the loved ones who is missing or someone whose been murdered that you may have to go beyond just the nuclear family or the biological family in fact the nuclear or biological family may be part of the violence that that person has experienced in their life.

Click for full transcript

So the term Two Spirit to my understanding is a very modern term that was created by Indigenous people for Indigenous people who identify as being under the LGBQT or Lesbian Gay Bisexual Queer Transgender spectrum. That is inclusive of gender diversity, non-binary identities, gender fluidity and it can also be inclusive to sexual identities as well but specifically for Indigenous people who identify as First Nations, Metis, Native American and what have you so Indigenous people of Turtle Island or North America.


The terms like gender fluidity and non-binary have very different meanings for a lot of Indigenous FNs people depending on where they are coming from what Nation they are from what traditions and ceremonies their communities have for those folks. But they’re for folks who don’t necessarily self-identify as being male and / or female or man or woman it could be a combination of both, it could be a flexibility or fluidity between maleness and femaleness depending on how they self-identify or their self-expression besides what their assigned sex at birth might be. So understanding that gender and sexuality is more complex than we think of colonial senses of gender when we think of just man or just woman because in many different FNs communities and Indigenous communities that’s not the case and that’s familiar for different cases for different cultures right across the world when you looking at gender diversity or sexual expression inclusivity in those cultures and also looking at the complexities of when there’s colonization on top which also plays a role. So when it comes to non-binary and gender fluidity you can take those contextual definitions for them but they’ll have a different meaning depending on where you’re going across turtle island.


I think in a sense depending on where you’re go there are different definitions and languages for Two Spirit terms before the modern Two Spirit ever existed in some communities it was never even based on someone’s gender or their sexuality or who they chose as a partner sometimes it depended more on their gifts and what their community roles were in that community so if they were a better hunter or a better fire keeper or if they were a medicine person or if they picked medicines of they did basket weaving it all depends on what their gifts were given to them by creator in creation. That’s an understanding that I received in my community in my territory up near Batchewana but it is very complex and different for everybody because there are still people who might not have had those teachings and don’t have any kind of terminology or traditional ceremonies for their Two Spirit folks but in other cases they might have different terminology.


I think some of harms that Two Spirit specifically trans, gender fluid people face in a modern society is generally a lack of awareness about gender and sexuality as a whole but also the complexities of being Indigenous and what does it mean to be living in colonized state that has perpetuated aspects of discrimination: homophobia and transphobia towards multiple LGBQT people but looking at the barriers and the complexities of just being indigenous the challenges that they face such as high rates of criminalization, high rates of violence, issues with housing, education and health care it can be very complexities if someone is entering those spaces trying to seek services in a modern sense when the people providing those services have no awareness whatsoever of how to properly engage with someone who has identified as being FN or Indigenous and top of that somehow who might identify as being Two Spirit or LGBQT. 7:48 so there’s still a lack of that awareness that creates multiple other barriers where people don’t necessarily want to know or there could be the case of the bystander effect where they’re just not too sure how to engage with somebody and just decide not to engage and hope somebody else will take care of it which can create even more dangers for Two Spirit queer trans Indigenous people who are trying to access those services and might face even greater burdens or greater challenges when accessing services like health care or employment or social services.


When it comes to homophobia and transphobia and Indigenous Two Spirit people it’s very there’s multiple different levels because the one again just those challenges of being Indigenous that they face in society but it could also be additional pressures on to them if they are racialized and also identifying as being queer and trans so historically those values of homophobia and transphobia were not necessarily Indigenous values or FNs values not necessarily the values that I’ve learned in my understanding of loving and respecting everybody and that everybody has a purpose and everybody has a role within creation it doesn’t matter how different you are we still play we still have a we still need each other to have a sense of balance we still need each other to have our circles and be stronger together. So when it comes to history and looking at research that has been done about homophobia transphobia on Indigenous people it is very systemic and it is very historic where you have early Two Spirit people who are met with initial violence sometimes we are the first societies that were erased from Indigenous cultures and societies. So even trying to find those terminologies for people who are trying to find access or trying to engage with Indigenous people without that terminology is really hard because we know that language is very important for Indigenous people we know that language is very ceremonial for a lot of FNs Indigenous people and without that language without that terminology sometimes it can be harder for people to find that connection and to build those supports for Two Spirit queer trans Indigenous people if they don’t have Two Spirit or queer trans Indigenous terminology that’s of their own however with the history that’s been done and research that’s been done with Harlem Prudone what their research has found there’s been multiple terminologies for multiple centuries and generations in different communities across North America that have that terminology and its growing because there’s definitely a need for it because we see a push for finding those supports and finding those better tools and resources for Two Spirit queer trans Indigenous people because of those high rates of violence that they face, the high rates of mental illness, housing issues that they have and aspects of suicide and suicide ideation. Two Spirit are impacted by that greatly because we know that Indigenous people are impacted by those factors, we know that LGBQT people are impacted by those factors we just don’t know how many Indigenous people are being impacted because sometimes we’re still not having those conversations with people who don’t want to engage or don’t know how to engage at all.


I think if somebody is facing different aspects of violence whether that be personal relationships or accessing services accessing care being faced with discrimination whether it be with racism and or tied with their gender or sexuality it can be very isolating for them if they don’t have enough resources or supports to reach out and share stories to share their truth of what’s happening to them I think it’s also with that lack of awareness initially there might be service providers who don’t know how to again engage in those stories or to take that information that is being shared with them as valid evidence of being abuse or violence because again those systemic barriers when it comes to gender or sexuality or race so I think for some people if they’re going to first instance if they are trying to access a health care provider and they know that the receptionist or the nurse there is having those values of homophobia and transphobia or racism or both all of that it might not initially be a safe place to 1) be an Indigenous person accessing that care or 1) being a Two Spirit or queer trans Indigenous person accessing that care so one of the results could be is that they either try to find those supports elsewhere or do they just go out without the service which can create more issues later on down the line especially if it comes to aspects of social wellness or mental health or health care so that’s very disturbing when we know that people within my community who if they are going to a hospital or if they’re going to an appointment it’s important for me to reach out to them and even ask them do they have a friend going with them do they have somebody that can be with them and advocate for them in case they’re faced with those kind of barriers that I mentioned before. So again it can be very isolating it can be very detrimental to their health and well-being which is really hard for everybody in the community because if one person is suffering then the rest of the community is suffers because we are only as strong as our weakest link so we need to make sure that those people who are facing multiple barriers in their life or whatever they’re experiencing we also have to hold space for them and ensure that their truths are also being honoured.


I think a lack of acknowledgement when it comes to gender inclusive language so there are still so it could be an initial barrier when you walk into a service provider and be met with hello maam or hello sir if you identify as gender fluid or Two Spirit or non-binary and those identifiers don’t match with your own experience so avoiding that kind of language moving past that those gender norms when it comes to language but also spaces within itself so for somebody who identifies as being gender fluid and Two Spirit myself the one thing I always try to look for is a gender inclusive bathroom or a uni-sex bathroom whatever that might be because then I know for me ok there is a space for me there because there is a carved out space for people who might have that same experience but if you don’t have that experience then the question is ok then where do I go to the washroom? If I go to this washroom is it going to be safe? Another barrier that other people can face right from the get go is like forms intake forms so when people are looking at like gender and sex or they’re using gender and sex as being the same when that’s not necessarily inclusive for somebody else’s own experience or how they self-identify so if you have those forms your intake forms say either male and female and nothing else that can be a barrier right there when someone doesn’t identify as being male and / or female for myself if I find myself with one of those forms I just end up drawing a little box and then putting my own identity marker there just because it’s a good practice for me so if I go to a form and there’s another box or another place for me to self-identify then that creates space for myself to hopefully have that better experience I think the other big important thing is just pronouns just like very basic things that people can work on but understanding that pronouns might be very different for everybody and you can’t assume that somebody else’s experience is going to be similar or we can’t read somebody and how they self-identify by just meeting once or twice so it’s a matter of even just asking those questions or even doing yourself with your own practice like my name is my pronouns are which is a really good practice for themselves as a service provider or a helper within that community and if I know I hear that cue if I hear somebody come up to me and say  my name is my pronouns are then for me automatically I think that that person probably has had a workshop before, they’ve probably had training, they probably have somebody in their life or in their clients or in their family who self-identifies and uses pronouns so for me it’s like a cue it’s an audio cue for me to hear like ok there’s probably this place is a little bit safer and if I don’t hear it then it’s something for me to be aware of and maybe to ask questions later on if I’m comfortable enough or if I’m brave enough to ask those questions because sometimes you don’t have that time especially if it’s an emergency when you just need to figure out what the problem is right at the get go and you might not have time to advocate for another box on their form so but then again if it’s a practice of general awareness it can be a lot easier for everybody to access those spaces and have a good experience and make them feel more welcome within the community, make sure that reaching out and telling other people within their own families in their own communities like hey you should go to this place because they have really good officers that use pronouns or you should go to this agency because they have done training and there is inclusive washrooms that you can use so I think that’s the kind of what we’re trying to aim for when we’re trying to create those spaces for Two Spirit queer trans Indigenous people and people who identify as non-binary gender fluid.


I think when it comes to Indigenous agencies or Indigenous groups or gatherings that happen when it comes to inclusive traditions or ceremonies that there needs to be again more conversations about gender and sexuality just from basic commonality and basic understanding of what gender and sexuality is and I think we have to also when we are looking back we have to look at the history too of sexual violence towards Indigenous people when it comes to the abuses they might have faced during residential schools or the 60s scoop or other colonial traumas that might have occurred even specifically with the report of MMIW where you have a whole section within there on how people can have better supports and create those inclusive spaces and create inclusive policies and procedures and standards or engaging with Two Spirit LGBQT that’s how they reported it in their report and that was something that we can use as a base because within other aspects other calls to action Two Spirit identity is forgotten when you saw the 94 calls to action released with the TRC report it was very little information on Two Spirit queer trans Indigenous identity which was very concerning because understanding that queer and trans identity or the term Two Spirit is very modern but the concept and the people who identified as being queer and trans throughout history who are Indigenous also attended residential schools because these are some because I’ve met family members of Two Spirit people who went to residential schools and Two Spirit people who have come out to me identifying as being Two Spirit or LGBQT who are Elders and seniors went to those spaces and their experiences were very different and some of those experiences were very violent so I think it’s another thing too debunking what is the difference between sexual violence toward Indigenous people and what is sexual identity and what is just common attraction or gender fluidity because that is not what that violence was like this was something that was either honoured or respected or something that was a part of their community from a very long period of time and that colonial violence was something that kind of masked that so I think there’s a lot of people who are within those agencies who look down at LGBQT people because it maybe makes them reflect about the abuses that happened before and understanding that that is historical trauma that we all need to go through as a community to talk more about and to move forward in a good way an understanding that we all have to heal on both fronts but I think for folks who are resistant to being inclusive towards queer trans Indigenous people because it might go against their own teachings or their own traditions or their ceremonies or how they’ve done it for multiple years it can be really hard for them to open up and try and build those spaces.

For somebody who identifies as being gender fluid it’s very important for myself and for other folks to find those spaces that are going to be inclusive of our identities who are going to use pronouns who are going allow us to have to sit where ever we feel like we need to sit on whatever side and maybe even removing those gendered ways of teaching   not saying there’s anything wrong with them but I’m just saying sometimes it’s very it can be very closed off for people who are trying to access those services when they feel they need to conform to something that they’re not like wearing skirts or not wearing skirts because that is like something that’s also very that can create multiple barriers and multiple discussions about trying to access those ceremonies if you’re looking for that wellness and care for their spiritual identity and folks who are trying to find that spiritual care and that spirit work so there’s still multiple conversations that need to happen but we really need to challenge those leaders I think because the barriers are real there are still people who are still continually met with a lot of violence and met with a lot of experiences that nobody would ever even think about that somebody would go through only based on because of how they identify as being Two Spirit.


well if they can’t access ceremony and that support then I feel like there’s a part of them that goes missing where I come from my teachings are we have like the medicine wheel and the medicine wheel teaches is the embodiment of health and wellness and it comes through our mental our emotional our physical and our spiritual needs so if a part of our spiritual needs aren’t being met then there’s a strain on all of our other systems and we have to compromise and I think it puts a lot of barriers and distance for those Indigenous people who might experience a kind of discrimination within ceremony or traditional settings and my question is if they can’t get access to their ceremonies or their ability to prayer then whose prayers and ceremonies do they pick up along the way or how long will it take them to come back and pick up ceremonies or do they ever pick up ceremonies at all? You have a lot of different Two Spirit queer trans Indigenous people who have totally not want to go back because of safety because of those protocols because of those aspects where they don’t feel welcome at all and there are some people who are starting to build those spaces but I think it’s almost an act of tolerance where they’re just tolerating Two Spirit people if a Two Spirit person self identifies but it’s not laid out specifically when for like every ceremony or community. But if that’s just how they pray and they’re not inclusive to that it’s always a matter of trying to find other ceremonies that are inclusive because there are different ceremonies and lodges who are starting to change their mind set and to be more inclusive and moving past tolerance and more acceptance within their circle.


I think when it comes to another barrier that Two Spirit people can face too is when they are accessing services that are Indigenous based but if they’re not inclusive to that then they might have to hide themselves so again it’s a matter of choosing is it safe for me to come out as being gay within these spaces even though this is the only resource that I have when I’m trying to access those kind of supports and care so I think that’s another thing too that it’s also huge pressure that people need to face when they have to either come out and weigh those options like is it safe for me to be my full self in this space or is it not or do I just have to put myself back in the closet which is really hard to do because according to like Laureen Blu Waters there’s no closets in tipis and no closets in wigwams so why should we have to try and hide ourselves when we’re trying to access ourselves within those spaces.

Cllick for transcript

Allloura Wells’ body was found  outside of her tent, clearly she was deceased , there was trauma to her body, extensive trauma – we’re just here to bring to come down here to bring homage to her to tell her that she’s still thought about that we miss her and we love her that the community misses her and that she will never be forgotten.


Allloura Wells was a Two Spirit trans woman – she was born in NS, lived her life in BC and then she lived here for the last 5 – 7 years of her life. Her mother passed away. She became homeless and this is where she met community down here where she lived and flourished with other people in the community. This is where she was in her last final days before she died.


I knew her because she was a friend that I met when she was like 17 years old when I was doing outreach for the trans Two Spirit community. She was a vibrant trans youth that was out there trying to make a life for herself to transition to be part of community, she would access Maggie’s Toronto, our drumming group, many groups and she was just a staple in our community. She was a beautiful person that everyone loved and loved having around.


She came to Maggie’s actually a month before that June she was very depressed I think with her mother passing, having a very, she was in a relationship that was very toxic, being homeless you know and many other factors …she came to Maggie’s and she was expressing these things to me and Jen, my co-worker, and we were trying to support her as best as we could and that was the last time we seen her and at that time she was a bit suicidal, she was just abused from her boyfriend. She didn’t show up and we were kind of concerned where is she? We thought she might have been incarcerated which turned out months later she wasn’t and that’s when Maggie’s got on the ball to go to the media to find out where she was and that’s when a woman came forward and said I found a trans body in the ravine by the Sherbourne or Jarvis viaduct and she notified the 519 and many other places she thought trans people Two Spirit spirit people would access an no one got back to her but she reached out to us when she went public and that’s when we got on the ball to ask questions because the police had her body for at that time about 3 4 months you know so there was no


There’s always been a strain within the police and the trans community sex work community so we were pushing the police why no one was notified we pushed the 519 you know you serve Two Spirit people in your homeless drop in why wasn’t anyone notified about this body?


There’s a lot of factors that made community really upset how they would just discard a Two Spirit trans woman and her life and we wanted answers we wanted justice. Regardless of what happened to her how she died she deserved the same dignity in life as she did in death  you know we’re still pushing for sitting on the police advisory to make sure these things don’t happen again we doing consultations in the community next month around how police engage with Two Spirit and trans people hopefully this will shed some light to making changes, to making a better connection with police and making sure they understand that just because someone’s marginalized, homeless or different doesn’t mean they’re not as important as anyone else in our society so this is something that I’m very vigilant about that I’m pushing and making sure things change


This has really bothered the community for many decades the things that have been going on but now we have a voice to make change I’m not saying it’s going to happen immediately but we have to be persistent. We need to get community involved and allies to push for change.


When we found out she wasn’t in jail or anything I was in contact with her family and that’s when I pushed them to go do a missing person’s report. At that time the police were very hesitant because they knew Alloura, they knew she was homeless, she was transient, she was a sex worker, they said oh here’s a number so that’s when we went back to the media and stated what the police that they were reluctant to actually do the report and we were going to take it upon ourselves to go look for her 00:55 we knew where she lived down in the ravine so I postered all through downtown Toronto Facebook to do a search: we all met at Sherbourne and Bloor – a big large crowd came out to support us. We combed through the whole ravine without no avails – we did not find her, we did find some of her belongings. There was one person that was very instrumental in the search, that actually hung with her and knew where she resided. After that we hosted a few more events, one at the 519, we rallied down Church Street over to headquarters which I have that footage demanding answers, demanding accountability around police and their search for people that are homeless, trans, or marginalized or Indigenous


Once the news started rolling in that’s when the woman that lives in the area and found the body and notified Maggie’s right away that there was a trans body found that’s when we demanded answers from the police. They said they were looking endlessly for family or who this person might have been and we were like well why like she was found in an area where there was a lot of places that hosted Two Spirit drop ins sex work drop ins why wasn’t there any sort of consultation with any communities if anyone was missing

So from there finally DNA was done and we found out early December just actually early December we found out that it was Alloura Wells and then we hosted at the Sanctuary where she went a lot a place where a lot of Indigenous people they work really hard very cohesively with the Indigenous community we hosted a memorial there


Once we did a memorial for community so we had a memorial at the Sanctuary which was a placed for a lot of people to come and together. The memorial was a place for a lot of community members, friends, we reached out to her family to come together, talk about Alloura, talk about how she changed people’s lives, remember her and that she was missed and loved and then I did a gofundme page because her family had no money and we weren’t sure if we could get money through the welfare and stuff thought the gofundme raised 10,000 dollars so we were able to bring her family in from across the country, give them some money while they were here, give her a nice farewell at her funeral and the rest of the money was put towards the Alloura Wells fund which hosts the monthly Two Spirit trans support group which we are still building on we’re actually getting more donations. It’s a space where trans people can be themselves, talk about some of the hardships in their lives empower them to stay safe, give them resources, just support them where they’re at and it’s led by them and it’s just a space that’s well needed in our city of Toronto.


I felt that this could be a great learning tool for service providers to be aware of those experiences that Two Spirit people experience daily in their lives and also


also a video that would


so when No More Silence approached the Alloura Wells Fund and me about this video this Two Spirit video about breaking the silence on the violence that Two Spirit people face in their lives I thought this was a great idea for not only the community that I serve but the very diverse communities within the Two Spirit community to bring awareness to some of the systemic violence that they endure, the policing, the violence that they deal with ongoing in their lives and also to bring community to together to talk about some of this, these experiences and to not only produce this video but to connect the diversity of people within our community to embrace each other to learn from each other to understand each other and to maybe push for more programming and more awareness campaigns, bring more visibility to the diversity within our community


The rates of violence that trans Two Spirit people face is very high within our communities, most often it’s undocumented, people are silenced when reporting it to service providers, it’s not believed – these are issues that go beyond the community so this video will actually educate service providers on what they need to do to support Two Spirit people that are dealing with various forms of violence within their lives from the diversity of Two Spirit people that may be trans, non-binary, gay, queer identified, lesbian and to have better approaches and policies in place to support people within those communities.


experiences that they experience is that a lot of service providers are not educated on how to best support Two Spirit trans people around the violence. They don’t have protocols in place or programs or services that actually support people through these issues which is we’re still dealing with


trans people, Two Spirit people are just finally getting accessibility in a lot of agencies but agencies aren’t equipped to actually support Two Spirit people within those agencies around the violence say endure just for being Two Spirit, for being trans or any other identity they may have so this video will allow them to listen and hear the voices of what they need to do for people within the Two Spirit community and how they need to make changes in their agencies to make sure that trans people are included in those processes around accessible services and supports


most common mistakes are they use pronouns the assumption that trans if they’re clearly looking female that they identify them as he if they’re female but clearly identify as male but clearly identifying them as she – that’s the thing that’s ongoing, dismissing some of their trauma and their violence that they experience on a day to day basis, not believing their life experiences, or their experiences with police or with community or the surroundings in which they live in and hang out. These are common threads and also blaming Two Spirit people for their own lives for being homeless underemployed doing sex work or just being Two Spirit that it’s our fault  our own fault for the violence that we experience


I think best practices for a lot of agencies is actually hiring Two Spirit people as staff so they can not only create better policies but better programming if you’re having Two Spirit people within those agencies accessing those services have staff that reflect those communities that you’re serving


have consultations within the communities that access your services especially Two Spirit people ask them what do they need, what do they want? Don’t make assumptions that we need the same things as other people, you know don’t take it upon yourself to be intrusive and ask trans people about their bodies and their lifestyles – that’s pressuring Two Spirit people opening them up to more discrimination and stigma. You need to do your own research within community and how you best put supports in place to make your services more accessible for all Two Spirit people. There are many agencies in Toronto like Maggie’s Two Spirit of the FNs that do extensive training around Two Spirit people so reach out, do your own research and if you need to, have consultations within community members or people that work in the community that can best support you through this process.


Some of things that agencies can do to be more proactive when working with Two Spirit people is have sign-up sheets that have female male Two Spirit or other that allows Two Spirit people to identify the way they want to, make sure you have bathrooms that gender neutral bathrooms that so Two Spirit people if they feel that they don’t want to be forced to go into a female or a male bathroom that they can go to bathroom that’s gender neutral, make sure that you’re instead of assuming a gender or an identity is to ask, ask how do you self-identify? Don’t make assumptions by the way a person looks or how they act, make sure you have policies in place that actually will support Two Spirit people within the agency around accessibility and non-discriminatory practices so there’s a lot of things you can do, work with policy makers in the Two Spirit community to make sure these policies are written in stone so no Two Spirit person will experience discrimination when accessing services. There’s so many things you can do to be pro-active and to support Two Spirit people in our big city of Toronto.

Video Resource for Service Providers

Community members sharing their messages to service providers.

Here is the video of the panel discussion with Monica Forrester, Megan Scribe and Teddy Syrette at our launch party in Toronto on December 6, 2019

A No More Silence Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project collaboration