Niizh Manidoog Ndaayaawaag
Boozhoo niwiijiiwaagaanan, Dibiki-Giizis Waabigwan Ikwe ndizhinikaaz, mikinaak ndoodem, Gojijiing ndoonjiba gaye Miskwaagamiwiiziibiing ndaa noongom. Dash niizh manidoog ndayaawaag.
Hello friends, my name is Adrienne Huard. I am turtle clan, and my father’s family hails from Couchiching First Nation, Treaty 3 territory in Ontario, where we are registered members. Both my paternal grandparents, Lucille Perreault and Edmund Huard, moved to Winnipeg after attending St. Margaret’s Indian Residential School in Fort Frances, ON, and St. Joseph’s Indian Residential School in present-day Thunder Bay, ON. Within our lineage, we also carry the names Mainville, Bruyere, and Jourdain. Today, Winnipeg is considered home to most of my father’s family, as my dad, Ronald Huard, and his sisters, Johanna, Janice, Tamar, and Suzanne, grew up in the northeast neighbourhood of Elmwood. My maternal grandparents, Julia Popiel and John Woligroski, were second-generation Polish-Ukrainian immigrants who settled onto farmland near the small town of Beausejour, Manitoba. My mother, Atarrha Wallace, moved to Winnipeg to pursue a university education and subsequently met my father, who lived down the street. I always joke that I’m a classic Manitoba mutt, arguing that Winnipeg carries the best selection of both frybread and perogies within a two-block radius of each other.
I began this article by introducing myself in my ancestral language, Anishinaabemowin, stating who I am and where my family comes from. Anishinaabe introductions usually end with “I am an Anishinaabe man or woman,” however, as a Two-Spirit, non-binary person, I’ve found myself conflicted—I am neither man nor woman. Following the footsteps of Two-Spirit Anishinaabe author Kai Minosh Pyle, who concludes their introduction with “I am Two-Spirit,” I choose to do the same. Niizh manidoog ndayaawaag. I began identifying as Two-Spirit in my late twenties, after coming out to my family as bisexual at 27 when I began a serious relationship with my girlfriend at the time. Though I’m unsure whether coming out is the correct term because I believe that they always knew. I later began calling myself Indigiqueer because I didn’t know the language then—afraid to adopt an identity I knew very little about. I rarely encountered Two-Spirit Elders then, and I almost assumed they didn’t exist.
While there are documented histories that gender-diverse Indigenous peoples were widely accepted within Anishinaabe communities, Two-Spirit knowledge has gone into a dormancy period due to colonial settler invasion. The severing of our ancestral languages and knowledge began with colonization’s ongoing efforts to commit genocide on Indigenous peoples by displacing us from our homelands and enforcing assimilation tactics while destroying our kinship systems and governance structures. Through all of this, our understanding of gender, sexuality, marriage structures, family dynamics, and roles and responsibilities was silenced. European anthropologists took an authoritative stance over documenting Indigenous cultures, which not only controlled the narrative but also denied Indigenous peoples a voice in how they were being presented. The derogatory term berdache first appeared in anthropological writing in the early twentieth century, describing gender-diverse peoples as sexual deviants. Therefore, they condemned Indigenous concepts of gender and sexuality that are intrinsically embedded within our languages. When it comes to Anishinaabemowin, our language doesn’t follow gendered pronouns the same way English does. Instead, our nouns are classified as inanimate (furniture, clothing, and land) or animate beings (people, spirits, animals, plants, etc.). This perspective completely alters the ways we think about gender because it doesn’t permanently foreground our existence, but rather, it is fluid and dynamic. It mirrors the land, like changing seasons, migration patterns, and earth formations.
Because Eurocentric anthropologists viewed the berdache as primitive and morally impure, there is very little documentation of our diverse understandings of sexuality and gender from an Indigenous perspective. This flattened our nation and tribal-specific concepts and languages that explain our gender and sexual expansiveness, leaving us with pan-Indigenous ideas of what it could’ve been. As a response to this erasure, the term Two-Spirit was gifted to Anishinaabe and Cree Two-Spirit Elder from Ojiigiziibiing (Fisher River Cree Nation, MB), Myra Laramee, in a vision during her attendance at the third annual international LGBT Native American gathering in Winnipeg, MB in 1990. It was a spirit-name given to her by her ancestors as a placeholder for 2SLGBTQIA+ Indigenous peoples because the terminology has been lost over time at the hands of settler colonialism. For many Two-Spirit, trans, and queer Indigenous peoples today, replacing the term with Indigenous phrasing from their distinct communities acts to reclaim their ancestral knowledge and languages. In Anishinaabemowin, niizh manidoog represents a step forward in fully embracing my own identity.
I began taking Anishinaabemowin classes in my early twenties. However, I really delved into learning the language when I began my Ph.D. in Indigenous Studies at the University of Manitoba in 2020 because it was a requirement. Studying under Pat Ningewance and her grandson, Aandeg Muldrew, became one of my favourite aspects of the program because they really took the time to ensure that we understood what we were saying and why, especially when it came to the double vowel system. One mispronounced vowel could take on a whole new meaning, such as the unfortunate difference between “turkey” and “to defecate oneself,” for example. But most importantly, it helped me appreciate Anishinaabemowin’s symbolic nature that drives the invocations of our stories and knowledge—much of our language reflects the sounds of the land itself. Learning and reclaiming my language has helped me further understand my identity as a Two-Spirit person and how important that is when thinking about the presence of Two-Spirit, trans, and queer Indigenous future generations.
Today, at 35 years old, I’m not only deeply invested in the Two-Spirit community as an emerging drag artist and burlesque performer but also as a newly appointed co-chair for the board of 2Spirit Manitoba Inc., thanks to the mentorship and guidance of Two-Spirit Elders and community members that I’ve been so fortunate to have in my life. As Anishinaabeg begin to connect with their language, it is my hope that we will begin to unravel the harmful threads of colonization while revitalizing our knowledge of sexuality and gender diversity—it is truly impossible to move forward when we leave those behind. Two-Spirit, trans, and queer Indigenous peoples have existed within our communities since time immemorial, and this is deeply embedded within our ancestral languages and teachings. Therefore, learning the language and embracing the presence of our Two-Spirit relatives are synonymous—they go hand-in-hand with Indigenous sovereignty that safeguards our future generations while reviving our sleeping Indigenous knowledge.