Gender and Sexuality

Prior to colonization, many Indigenous communities approach to gender and sexuality was fairly fluid and non-binaristic. For instance, many nations were matrilineal in nature, meaning that the property was passed down along the maternal line, and that the women were the main decision makers, often choosing tribal council and governing how inter-nation wars were fought. The introduction of European culture, and particularly of Christianity and patriarchy, caused huge upheaval amongst the Indigenous communities in North America. Gender roles became fraught for many nations as the men in the community were simultaneously being told that they should be in power by dint of being male, but also that they were inferior due to their race. Further, while two-spirited people (a term currently used by Indigenous communities to refer to non-heteronormative or gender normative peoples) had previously been accepted within these communities, by the 19th century the influence of Christianity and ever shifting power dynamics meant two-spirited peoples were largely silenced. Another major fallout from colonization has been the high rate of violence against Indigenous women. The number of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls within Canada is at epidemic levels (the RCMP estimates 1017 between 1980 and 2012) and has prompted much media attention and now an inquiry to deal with the systemic problems leading to these strikingly disproportionate numbers.

Despite all the disruptions that the beliefs of Christian, European colonizers caused to what was an equitable and smoothly running understanding of gender and sexuality, in recent decades, many of these Indigenous nations are returning to their traditional understandings of these concepts.

Here we have listed a number of resources on gender and sexuality within Indigenous communities past and present:

  1. A number of artists have explored two-spirited existence in contemporary Indigenous life.

    1. Films: First Stories-Two Spirited (NFB 2007) is a documentary that explores the life of a two-spirit person looking for acceptance by his community and Fire Song (2015) explores the same theme

    2. Visual Art: Kent Monkman uses his alter-ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle throughout his artwork as a way to explore homosexuality within Indigenous and colonial culture.

    3. Music/Performance art: Massey Whiteknife performs as ICEIS Rain and has released an album Queen as well as performing at the Indigenous Music Awards.

  2. Egale, a national charity promoting LGBTQ rights, runs the Two Spirits, One Voice program with the goal of reclaiming traditional beliefs and making urban spaces safer for two spirited people.

  3. An article with embedded videos on the struggles of two spirited peoples within Indigenous communities.

  4. Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls - there are a number of resources on this issue. Here are just a few:
    1. CBC's central website on cases of MMIW:

    2. An explanation of the Red Dress Project, an art project to commemorate MMIW:

    3. APTN's show 'Taken' looks at individual cases:

  5. Canadian Encyclopedia's article on Indigenous women past and present:

  6. A video from an online course offered by the University of Alberta on Indigenous gender and sexuality.