The Pride Report

Coming into the Circle – Welcoming Two-Spirit People in Ceremony

By Jennifer Brockman

I am a Woodland Cree Metis with Scottish, British, and Italian ancestry. I am Two-Spirit. I am careful what Ceremonial spaces I attend as not all Knowledge Keepers and Elders have knowledge of Two-Spirit people and not all Ceremonial spaces are made safe for Two-Spirit people to attend.

I went to a Pipe Ceremony recently which opened a conference and what I am about to share is my story as a Two-Spirit person entering Ceremonial Space where space is not made for me. While waiting for others to arrive, I overheard one of the Helpers for the men explaining to another where the women and men were going to sit. I approached and asked where I was to sit as I was a Two-Spirit and that I usually sit in-between the women and the men. He said he would talk with the Elder.

When the women Elders arrived two Circles were made, one for the women and one for the men and the Pipe Ceremony was split with a women’s and a men’s Pipe Circle. The Helper for the women came up to me and invited me to sit, and I told her I was waiting for the Elder’s guidance as I wasn’t sure where to sit yet as a Two-Spirit person. She told me I was welcome and that everyone here was supportive. That helped ease my mind a bit.

The Helper for the men came back and said I was welcome to choose to sit where I identify the most. I replied that didn’t really fit for me with two Circles to have to choose. I was told the two Circles was the Cree way. “Some Crees,” I replied. “That is true,” he responded.

I contemplated what I was going to do. If a circle has women on one side and men on the other, I usually sit in-between the women and men but with 2 separate circles, I was uncertain what to do. I felt fearful of how I might be judged if I sat with the men. I wanted to leave. I took a deep breath and looked again at the set-up to come to a decision that felt right to me.

I decided to sit between the women at where the two circles were close to intersecting and then I informed the Helper for the women. During the Pipe Ceremony we were all given tobacco to pray with. After the Pipe Ceremony, I gave my tobacco to the male Elder and explained I was Two-Spirit and asked if I could sit with the men tomorrow, to bring balance. He said that was okay and pointed me to sit opposite where I was and then I will be in-between the men. I was thankful.

The next day I arrived at the Ceremonial space to discover the set-up had been changed. It was a circle for the women and a half circle going around them for the men. The male Helper informed me I was welcome to sit where I was comfortable and I said this didn’t fit for me. I usually sit between the men and women and with two circles yesterday I sat with the women by where the circles came close to intersecting and had given tobacco to the male Elder to ask to balance that by sitting with the men. Now I was unsure where to sit as there were two ends of the circle for men. I contemplated what to do.

A Two-Spirit friend with his partner were there and he noticed me not sitting yet and holding back from joining and he approached me and we talked. He said they were unsure exactly where they were going to sit and pointed out to one of the ends and said they were likely going to sit there and I was welcome to join them. As more people joined the circle I decided to sit with them as I felt our Two-Spirit prayers and strength should be together. They already also had a pillow waiting for me, which I thought was so kind.

After a few minutes, a woman came up and scolded me. She said, “Do you know you are sitting with the men? The women sit there!” The tone of voice was not a kind reminder. The tone was scolding and shaming. I replied, “I know, thank you,” and then I began to cry and turned my face away from her. The Helper for the women noticed this and intervened before anything more was said. She went up to the woman and spoke to her.

The male Elder began to speak and I tried my best to stifle what was hard crying. I didn’t want to distract from what he was saying. But I could not stop crying. My Two-Spirit friend comforted me, rubbed my back, told me, “Remember what you were told, to sit where you are comfortable.” I finally was able to feel calm again and just before the pipes were lit, the woman who scolded me came up and gave me a hug and said she was sorry. Another woman with her hugged me as well.

The Pipes were lit and we prayed. Interestingly, we were in a room of 9 paintings of Indigenous people, painted to honour Residential School survivors. I prayed about the loss of teachings around gender diversity, I called upon the Spirits to help open people’s eyes and minds, I prayed for our Two-Spirit community who are affected by others not having the knowledge of Two-Spirit people. I prayed for the Elders who create Ceremonial space but forget to create space for Two-Spirit people. I prayed for and thanked the Two-Spirit ancestors who did the work they did so I could sit in my place today.

When the prayers were done and the pipes were being passed, the female Elder invited me to sit with them to smoke their Pipes. I thanked her and said I was okay. The helper of the male Pipe did not offer the Pipe to me, but I was okay with it. I knew my prayers had been strong and were heard. I felt peaceful.

After the Ceremony, I shook everyone’s hands and noticed the medallion I was wearing, which was given as a gift from my Sundance sister, was backwards. It had been given to her from our late Elder. He was contrary. I had prayed to him as well because he always created space for me in his Ceremony and acknowledged me as a Two-Spirit in his prayers and in his teachings to others in the lodge I knew he was proud of me.

In my feedback form to the committee of the conference I added an additional 3 pages of my written story of the Pipe Ceremonies as well as advice to help guide them for next year.

What can you do to create Ceremonial space for Two-Spirit people?

*Have community Pipe Ceremonies so separate circles are not putting Two-Spirit, Gender Diverse, and Non-Binary people at risk of having to out themselves if they are not ready.

*Have families sit together instead of separating by gender. Or allow people to sit wherever they choose instead of separating by gender.

*If you need to separate by gender with men on one side and women on the other, also say where Two-Spirit, Gender Diverse, and Non-Binary people can sit and have it be where they feel comfortable. However, this ONLY works when there is one large Circle. I usually sit between the women and the men. Some may want to sit with the gender they feel they identify with more or sit where they feel needs the Spiritual help more. When there are 2 circles, then the option for Two-Spirit, Gender Diverse, and Non-Binary people to sit in-between is not there, unless we sit between the two circles like a bridge, which is also an option.

*Have Two-Spirit, Gender Diverse, and Non-Binary Elders and Pipe Carriers at the Ceremony.

*Educate the people there by acknowledging not only Women, Men, but Two-Spirit, Gender Diverse, and Non-Binary people as well. Explain that Two-Spirit, Gender Diverse, and Non-Binary people are sitting wherever they are comfortable or wherever their prayers are needed most so that everyone knows what is going on; otherwise, some people there will not know and this could set-up Two-Spirit, Gender Diverse, and Non-Binary to be scolded or shamed.

*Include Two-Spirit, Gender Diverse, and Non-Binary people in the prayers that are said by using words to acknowledge them.

*Be aware that some Two-Spirit people express their identity in many ways. Some wear skirts, some do not, some sit cross legged, some do not. Any gendered ways that are normally associated with women and men can be mixed for Two-Spirit people and everyone will learn to be comfortable with seeing that. Don’t tell Two-Spirit people to dress in ways or sit in places they don’t feel comfortable.

*Create these spaces before the Ceremony so everyone going in feels welcomed, loved, and know they belong.

Thank you for reading.

Article published with permission from Jennifer Brockman

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