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Celebrating Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Communities

Indigenous People Have Dug Deep To Survive: Let’s Celebrate That

The executive director at 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations reflects on National Indigenous Peoples Day…

By Keith McCrady (pictured above)
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I grew up on a small reservation in northern Ontario. At a young age, I made a plan to finish high school and leave – to get away from the violence and the drug and alcohol addictions surrounding me, and the sexual abuse I experienced. I left right after high school graduation; I left without being taught to be proud of my language, culture, heritage and worldview.

One thing I looked forward to when I started my career was getting a paid day off for National Aboriginal Day (that’s what this celebration was called then). It was always June 21 or, if that landed on a weekend, a day closest to that day.

I worked at an Indigenous-focused childcare centre that was next to a bakery, which was directly across the street from where I lived. So I went to the bakery often. On one of these days off, I went into the bakery and the owner said, “Oh! Why is the childcare closed?” I replied, “Because it’s National Aboriginal Day.” And she then said casually, “Oh, you people take our holidays and your holidays and put them all together.” My response was: “You’re welcome to close your business and pay your staff to celebrate.” I stopped going there after that.

A few years later, I was an out and proud gay man. On one National Aboriginal Day celebration, my boyfriend and I walked back to his place with our other gay friends. A group of young guys was coming towards me – suddenly one of them swung a 2×4 and hit me in the face, saying, “Native faggot!” They broke my glasses and there was blood everywhere. I chased them into a backyard, and attacked the guy who had hit me, holding him on the ground. My friends called the police; it was at least 30 minutes before they showed up. They arrested him and departed, leaving me to attend to my extremely bloody face and broken nose by myself.

I am not reminiscing about these incidents because I’m a negative person, but to share the experiences of racism and homophobia I had to experience on those two specific days. But there are 363 other days in the year with even more graphic and violent memories of racism – pick one and I can tell you more stories. Yet I am just one First Nations man (this is how I identify now). I share this knowing that far too many of my First Nation, Métis and Inuit brothers and sisters have these types of violent and racist experiences daily.

Today, I’m fortunate enough to be executive director of 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations, where I get to walk beside my community and strive for a goal where 2-Spirit People reclaim our place in the circle. But how do I do that in a system that wasn’t set up for Indigenous people to succeed (and not even allowed to define their own success)? It’s a system that was solely created for white supremacy to thrive. A system that promotes and idly stands by and allows Indigenous people to be overrepresented and negatively impacted in inadequate housing, child welfare involvement, unemployment, HIV and AIDS, incarceration, suicide, lack of literacy and education, lack of access to recreation, human trafficking, poverty, food insecurity and all social determinants of health, even COVID-19. A system that has a past of the ’60s scoop, residential schools, the Indian Act, and now Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls and 2-Spirit People. A system where children like Colten Boushie, Chantel Moore, Tina Fontaine and many more are murdered by the exact system that claims to be there to protect them. A system where Indigenous people have been denied drinkable water for over 25 years. A system that proudly celebrates National Indigenous Peoples Day despite all of this.

This is a system that we all – each and every one of us – actively accept, promote, tolerate and endorse when we don’t take accountability. We have to start over. So, on National Indigenous Peoples Day (although “National First Nations, Métis and Inuit Day” would be more accurate now), what can we do? We can still celebrate, but do so recognizing the resilience and sheer survival tactics Indigenous people have had to muster to be here.

What can you do? Change the way you want to “help” Indigenous people, and instead walk beside them on their journeys. Demand policies and legislation to reflect the needs of Indigenous people. Share resources, money, space, workforce and information. Step down from your positions of authority – better yet, dismantle the hierarchy of control and see each other on a circle, with no one better or more important than the other. Understand what self-determination is, and honour Truth and Reconciliation. Mentor, recruit, hire and retain Indigenous people in your workspaces. Put in the work of getting to know Indigenous communities and people, and understand what they want and need; listen to as many stories as you can. Take accountability for your privilege and the inequities. Vote differently – vote for those forgotten and left behind, and not your own benefit. And, yes, give land back.

Oh, btw, that young boy who hit me in the face with the 2×4 and broke my glasses and nose? He was sentenced to paying $500 for my glasses, and nothing else. I never did get my 500 bucks and I left my nose broken to remind myself whenever I look in the mirror how much work we have to do. I am strong enough to do that work – are you?

KEITH MCCRADY, a proud father of four, grew up in the community of Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek, relocated to the GTA over 13 years ago and now calls Scarborough home. As the executive director of 2 Spirited People of the 1st Nations, Keith’s goal is to walk alongside the 2SLGBTQ communities and provide education and support to members of the 2- Spirit Community and reclaim our place in the Circle.

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