Rainbow Spirit Woman was the fire keeper of Sagkeeng First Nation (a role typically for men only) and a pipe carrier. When I ask her about the history of Two-Spirit people, she says the history of Two-Spirit “is in our language.” The Anishinaabe words for Two-Spirit man and Two-Spirit woman are difficult to translate, she tells me, but it’s something like woman with the spirit of man and man with the spirit of woman. That language, however, was taken away from her and countless others through residential schools. Two-Spirit people have been “hidden in the wilderness too long,” she says. But adds: “We’re all rising now. It’s time to bring spirit back to the village.”
She tells me about the importance of Two-Spirit people to her people. If the community councils were unable to solve a community problem, Two-Spirit people would fast for them to find the answer. She sees a return to this tradition as the way forward: “The chiefs need to work with us again.”
Being Two-Spirit is spiritual: “You’re between the worlds… we walk between the worlds.” Among the most sacred roles is the willingness to sacrifice their lives for their people, even fasting for longer periods.
Looking back, she says she “had a really tough life being a Two-Spirit person. And being a woman and native too!” Homophobia is all over, even within Indigenous communities. For Rainbow Spirit Woman, it’s time to “stop shoving us back in the closet… we have something to add.”