Writing the two-spirit dictionary

We Matter, Taxi and Facebook collaborated to give Indigenous youth guidance in understanding their gender and sexuality.
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“Two-spirit” is a relatively modern term built on deep historical and cultural roots within the Indigenous community.

In 1990, a conference in Winnipeg looked to create a new term for queer Indigenous people, who have had roles and experiences in their communities that weren’t captured by Western terms like gay, lesbian and transgender. It was also meant to replace existing terms like “berdache,” which had been forced on them by (usually European) anthropologists.

The term has varying degrees of adoption: some Indigenous people prefer to use terms from their own language, while others do not feel like it is representative of “them” or “their.” And the fact that it is a broad term, covering many different sexualities and gender expression across numerous different Indigenous cultures, means “two-spirit” can be interpreted as something very different for different people.

We Matter is a non-profit that supports and advocates for Indigenous youth across Canada. During June – which is Indigenous History Month, in addition to Pride Month – it worked with Taxi and Facebook Canada on a campaign that aimed to create a “dictionary” of all the definitions two-spirit can have. Two-spirit people from across Canada submitted their own definitions of two-spirit – be it through videos, written pieces, songs and art – all of which were shared through We Matter’s Instagram stories.

As the campaign wraps up, the plan is to compile these definitions into an actual, physical dictionary that will be distributed to schools and libraries in Indigenous communities, so the youth living there can see all the definitions for themselves. The book will also include AR capabilities, so the multimedia elements can be experienced digitally.

The campaign came as a result of “Hack for Good,” an agency hackathon hosted by Facebook Canada to find ways to help We Matter in its goal of supporting two-spirit youth.