As I sit down at my kitchen table to write this first blog post for The Becoming Collective, it feels appropriate that my mind is on the recent death of two-spirit community leader Dolan Badger. With the spirit and voice of the Idle No More movement rising up across the land in these last few months, I have felt inspired by the strength of collective mobilization around the rights and self-determination of our diverse Indigenous nations. Yet in the wake of Dolan Badger’s murder, I have wondered if there is a place for people like Dolan–those members of our families who are gifted with two spirits–in the philosophy of Idle No More. Dolan’s death has caused me to question how colonialism lingers in the form of homophobia, transphobia and shame around our sexuality. I wonder how the unfolding resurgence of Indigenous rights, self-determination and cultural strength will address these forms of colonial violence.
Dolan was involved in HIV and AIDS outreach in Vancouver and Edmonton, and was a youth worker with the Burnside Gorge Community Centre in Victoria, before recently moving back home to Whitecourt, Alberta. In his own life, Dolan faced racist and homophobic violence, as he shared in a newspaper article “Discovering two spirits”: “Growing up as both gay and aboriginal was difficult. I felt that I had to stay away from the two aspects of my life that defined me because I was constantly bombarded with slurs, racist insults and derogatory remarks.” As he describes, Dolan came to identify as aayahkwew or two-spirit, a gender identity distinct from male or female that wasn’t based in the Western gender binary but in Cree concepts of gender. In this embodied way, Dolan worked to reinvigorate Indigenous worldviews by insisting on his gender identity as distinctly Indigenous, undermining the imposition of colonial gender norms. While colonialism has involved imposing categories such as “Indian”, “woman” and “gay” on us, two-spirit, and the specific expressions of similar concepts in Indigenous languages, is a category that is distinctly Indigenous: in Dolan’s case, a specifically Cree expression of gender and sexuality.
At an embodied level, the Indian Act and residential schools worked to fracture Indigenous cultures and communities by imposing Western concepts of race and gender on the bodies of Indigenous peoples. Suppressing gender roles that fall beyond the gender binary (outside categories of “man” and “woman”) was central to colonial dispossession, yet these categories continue to be reinforced in much Indigenous activism and scholarship. Dolan’s own words speak to the ways that racism and homophobia work together, and his life attests to the vibrant ways two-spirit people actively resist both at the same time by proudly living as two-spirit, aayahkwew and other Indigenous expressions of gender and sexuality.
For me, as an Indigenous activist working on issues of violence in our communities, standing up against the legacy of violence perpetrated by the Canadian state must include taking a stand against the policing of our sexuality and gender roles. This means standing up against homophobic and transphobic violence, and looking at how two-spirit traditions continue to be sidelined in the gender politics of our communities. While I’m heartened to see Indigenous women at the forefront of many Idle No More actions across the land, I yearn to see two-spirit people positioned in the same way: as the strong leaders they already are.
This collaborative blog is about the relational nature of change, creating new knowledge and reviving old knowledge, honoring connections, and working collaboratively in our learning and community-building. In this spirit, as we head out to Idle No More actions across this land, I believe we need to honor Dolan’s leadership, both as a role model who centralized Indigenous knowledge within his two-spirit identity. In his daily life, he, like many other two-spirit activists, artists, knowledge keepers and community workers, took up responsibilities that lie at the heart of Idle No More. He worked for the betterment of our futures and communities in his work on HIV and AIDS. As we stand up against colonial oppression and claim our rightful place as Indigenous nations and individuals, we and our allies should be concerned with making the kind of violence Dolan faced unacceptable. Just as we stand up for girls and women who have been murdered or abducted, for our stolen children, and for our land, we must stand up for Dolan and all our two-spirit relations.
At the next Idle No More event, I will be raising my hands in his honor, along with all of our relations who left this world too soon. Who will join me?