U of W Two-Spirit Archives aim to preserve history of a community ‘erased’ from heritage

A hefty donation by a renowned local activist to the University of Winnipeg has created what is believed to be the most comprehensive two-spirit archives in all of Canada.

Following consultations with the two-spirit community, Albert McLeod made a series of donations to the U of W starting in 2011.

McLeod is a local two-spirit activist. His work raising awareness and advocating for his community has earned him an international reputation.

The trove, consisting of newsletters, journals, magazines, poetry, textiles, art and more, kick-started the expansive collection.

“Our vision was really to create an archives that helps support the two-spirit community, told the stories of two-spirit people who had been erased in Canada’s documentary heritage due to colonization and homophobia and transphobia,” said Brett Lougheed, university archivist and digital curator with the University of Winnipeg.

Renowned two-spirit activist Albert McLeod is shown at the13th Annual BAAITS Powwow in San Francisco, CA on Feb. 10, 2024. (Two-Spirit Archives/Facebook)

The archives are overseen by a two-spirit advisory council.

Connie Merasty, a Swampy Cree and two-spirit person from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. joined the council to help guide the archives’ stewardship. After a long career as an actor, performer and drag queen, she too had materials to contribute.

“I had a lot of show pamphlets, books, pictures that I wanted to share with the archive, so it’s really a lot of history around two-spirit arts culture,” Merasty said.

An archivist is shown examining a document kept in the Two-Spirit Archives at the University of Winnipeg in August 2023. (Two-Spirit Archives/Facebook)

The origins of two-spirit people

The term two-spirit was initiated by Fisher River Cree Nation elder Myra Laramie. In 1990, a vision came to Lamarie during a fasting ceremony.

“The ancestors, the grandmothers, grandfathers spoke to her and told her the name that she was and who we are, and came as two-spirit. It was ‘nij-manidowag,’” Marasty recounted.

“What two-spirit means is in the ceremonies, that we are able to take on the roles of women and men. We’re kind of the in-between people, so we’re kind of the moderators between men and women in all ceremonies.”

Two-spirit peoples have been historically marginalized and erased from heritage, Lougheed said. That’s why the archives are so important.

Even though they are situated in the University of Winnipeg, they’re open to anyone. A number of its collections are also accessible online.

Expansive as it is, the project is still not complete.

“We’re seeking additional donations to the archives. In terms of what’s needed, we tend to leave that up to the two-spirit community,” Lougheed said.

“Whatever the community finds to be of value, that is something that we are interested in preserving and providing access to.”

A document kept in the Two-Spirit Archives at the University of Winnipeg is pictured in August 2023. (Two-Spirit Archives/Facebook)

– With files from CTV’s Charles Lefebvre

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