Upstairs at the Canadian Native Friendship Centre (CNFC) on 95 Street, youth start arriving. They’ve come for the board games, pizza, maybe a talk about self-care, or just to enjoy each other’s company.
The event is the meet-up of the LGBTQ2S+ Support Group.
“It’s for youth when they need support,” explained Ryan Moosewaypayo, group leader. “We noticed that there’s not much support for the two-spirit community, where they could meet and be around people with the same issues and challenges.”
Moosewaypayo has been running the program for a year now after Johnny Thunder, the original group facilitator, went to NAIT to study business. Thunder started the group between two and three years ago.
“I started it back up,” said Moosewaypayo. “I just thought youth in the LGBTQ2S+ community would need a place.”
Two-spirit, or 2S, is a direct translation of an Ojibwe term. It generally means two things: an umbrella term that refers to all LGBTQ2S+ First Nations, Metis, and Inuit individuals, or it describes someone with both male and female spirits within them.
Moosewaypayo, from the Kinistin Saulteaux Nation of Treaty 4 in Saskatchewan, acknowledges the non-fixed interpretation of two-spirit. He stresses there are multiple perspectives depending on the individual or tribe. It could refer to sexuality, as in whom people are attracted to. “Or some people look at two-spirit within a gender lens,” said Moosewaypayo. “Within my role at the Friendship Centre, I keep it open as possible. I default to referring to it as a meeting of LGBTQ2S+ identity and Indigenous identity.”
The support group is run in partnership between the CNFC, the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies (iSMSS) at the University of Alberta, and a project called Where the Rivers Meet, a school-based initiative designed by two-spirit and LGBTQ Indigenous peoples.
“Some nights are educational,” said Moosewaypayo. “For example: sex education, things like safe sex, or healthy relationships.”
Shayne, who works with iSMSS but volunteers as facilitator for the support group, adds this educational element to the twice-monthly gatherings.
“It’s a learning opportunity for folks about how to manage things like self-care or stress. We sometimes talk about health, how to take care of your bodies,” said Shayne. “I feel like there is always an opportunity to reach out more. It’s a little bit of a gap that this support group serves.”
Sometimes other speakers are asked to give presentations, or documentary films are shown. Moosewaypayo stresses the group is open to everyone, but participants are generally 15 years and up and mostly youth.
“Some people come to support their friends. We target mostly youth but [occasionally] get some who are older,” said Moosewaypayo. “We don’t turn anyone away.”
He does see progress in participants.
“We’ve seen people coming back,” he said. “They feel they’re part of something.”
LGBTQ2S+ SUPPORT GROUP
First and third Tuesday of each month, 5:30-7:30 pm
Room 203, Canadian Native Friendship Centre (11728 95 St)
More info: 780.761.1900 or email Ryan.Moose@CNFC.ca.
Featured Image: Ryan Moosewaypayo, program lead, gives youth in the LGBTQ2S+ community and their allies a safe and welcoming space. | Kate Wilson