Laurie McDonald is looking to help pave the way for aboriginal youth in the LGBT community.
As an aboriginal social work instructor at Caring for First Nations Children’s Society who identifies as two-spirited – a First Nations term encmpassing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered – McDonald is sensitive to the needs of such individuals.
“Sometimes the word ‘gay’ can associated with derogatory words,” he said. “Spiritism isn’t about sexuality, but a role. Every tribe had a word for it. In 1996 tribes from the U.S, Mexico, South America and Canada came together to reclaim the use of ‘two-spirited.’”
Being two-spirited was a natural role of honour, said McDonald, a member of the Enoch Cree First Nation. “It’s a role we were given as a gift and with all gifts you get, there are trials and tribulations.”
McDonald, 64, came out to his family when he was a young boy. “Growing up, my family supported me,” he said.
It wasn’t until he was sent to the Ermineskin Residential School in Hobbema, Alta. at 12 that his two-spirited nature was looked down upon. “At residential school you had to go underground,” he said.
McDonald knew of other two-spirited students who ran away, while others committed suicide.
“If you ran, you were isolated after you were caught. If you lived close enough, you could go home (to reserve) once a month, but if you tried to run you couldn’t go home for a year.”
If a child ran from the school their parents could get six months in prison for sheltering them, he added. “Fortunately it is a lot more accepted now.”
McDonald’s partner of 37 years, Peter Dawson-McDonald, wishes there was more acceptance when he was growing up.
“When I told my mother I was gay, she asked if I wanted to see a psychiatrist,” he recalled. “My dad just didn’t talk about it. My mom and dad didn’t put me down, but they just never really talked about it.”
Dawson-McDonald, 59, revealed his sexuality to his family at 13. His siblings always supported him, he said, and that was comforting.
“We need to be more open with kids and explain to them that it’s OK,” he said. “My sister said, ‘It’s OK and it’s not the end of the world.’ That was more comforting to me than not talking about it.”
Caring for First Nations Children’s Society recently hosted its first-ever workshop focusing on accepting and supporting two-spirited aboriginal youth. It was organized to coincide with Pride Week in Victoria.
Prior to the workshop, a community feast and traditional drumming and songs were shared among participants.
“This workshop is sharing the history and identity of two-spirited people,” said Kelly Legge, policy analyst for Caring for First Nations Children’s Society.
“Two spirit is a special identity. Two-spirited people were leaders in the community, they were mediators, elders and politicians.”
Also attending the event were representatives from Hulitan Family and Community Services Society, the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, Island Metis Family and Community Services, Surrounded by Cedar, and various foster parents.
“We are going outside of our comfort zone with this,” said Laurie McDonald. “We have started today with a feast and drumming, because this is a celebration of life.”