Submitted by Topher Burke

Taanshi, Hello, my name is Topher Burke. I’m a sixth-generation, Two Spirit Me?tis currently residing in the Columbia Valley and member of the Columbia Valley Me?tis Association.

On the third weekend of August this year I was gifted one of the most profound experiences; attendance at the first ever Me?tis Nation BC Two Worlds, Two Spirits: Gathering the Circle of 2SLGBTQQIA+ Me?tis in British Columbia in Richmond. It was a beautiful, emotional, and healing gathering of Two Spirit Me?tis people where we had been tasked by the MNBC to help our government understand how we would like to represented and what our diverse needs are.

The event was co-hosted by community leaders, Pixie Wells and Louis De Jaeger. The project was led by Me?tis Nation Greater Victoria in collaboration with Fraser Valley Me?tis Association, Les Femme Michif Otipemisiwak – Women of the Me?tis Nation and MNBC. Even our President Lissa Dawn Smith, who I had a lovely conversation with before even knowing who she was, made a brief appearance herself on her way back from a marathon of events with our Ontario cousins. The true stars of the gathering were surely the Grandmothers, Charlotte Nolin and Barbara Bruce, from the Homeland, the Red River. Serendipitously I had just been reading about both of them and their experiences in a book on the plane there!

The gathering involved plenty of ceremony, experienced for the first time by many of us, feasting, gifting, crafting, tears of pain being released, tears of joy being shed and of course lots of smudging in between meetings, answering some very hard questions. For many of us it was, to quote Grandmother Barbara, a “Coming In” to our culture. To experience such a thing in such a safe and welcoming environment was truly poignant and spiritually awakening. Our ancestors were truly in tune with some very powerful medicine. Their way of living; respect, kindness, generosity, reciprocity and living in balance with the Great Mother, Earth, combined with their knowledge of plant medicine and ceremony should be taught to everyone. There are very good reasons they practiced these ways for thousands of years.

The Grandmothers also took the time to explain to us the history of the term “Two Spirit” and how it was adopted at an Indigenous conference they attended in 1990 as a term to better describe the diaspora of gender expression. Meaning someone who is gifted with the embodiment of both the female and male spirits, someone who sees the world from both places. It was explained to us how, on top of that gift, being Me?tis, we are gifted with being both Indigenous and European; we get to come from both sides, as well as walking in both the physical plane and the spiritual. These gifts are why we, the Two Spirit people, were traditionally held up in our communities with great esteem, being the medicine people, the healers, the negotiators and the foster parents. That was, of course before the Catholic Church gained influence.

Grandmother Charlotte gave a beautiful speech on the importance of community and how there is so much work still to be done to make people, especially young people, feel welcome and free to be themselves. Far too many people still take their own lives. I personally have felt such pain, coming far too close to making it final. To hear such kind words was very touching and motivating to want to help others in their healing journey.

When we first arrived I was asked by the person checking me in what I expected to get out of the gathering; at the time I had no idea. By the time I left my heart was filled with gratitude and joy. I came away with so much more than I could have ever expected; the experience was

momentous. Not only that, I came to realize what great strength we as Me?tis people, especially Me?tis women and Two Spirit People, carry in our veins. I only hope I was able to contribute as much as I received.

In the end, all the participants were gifted a rainbow sash designed by Two Spirit youth of the Lower Mainland, a gift I will cherish.

I look forward to the conclusions of the gathering being released by the MNGV & MNBC in the near future. I also look forward to the Two Spirit Sundance being held by the Grandmothers next year, in the Homeland.