Ep #6: Indigiqueer
ADRIENNE KEENE: Hey Matika! How you doing?
MATIKA WILBUR: Hi, Adrienne.
ADRIENNE: So where are you in the world today?
MATIKA: I'm in Kumeyaay country, the sun is shining, and the weather is sweet and I'm heading to Hopi this weekend and then over to Pueblo friends, and then heading out to Lawrence and doing a mural. Some kids up there I'm super excited about that. So I'm just on the go, keepin it pushing. How about you?
ADRIENNE: Still hanging out here in Wampanoag and Narragansett lands in Rhode Island. And then next week I'll head up to Toronto for a conference, and then I'll be in Kumeyaay lands for a bit after that. So, we're both as per usual, all over the place.
MATIKA: I didn't come to Coachella.
ADRIENNE: Wasn't planning on it but if you need the hipster headdress police, happy to help with that.
MATIKA: Oh my gosh we should be the designated hipster headdress police for Coachella. I would hate that.
ADRIENNE: The numbers of headdresses have been going down lately but anyway. What do we have going on on this episode today?
MATIKA: Today we're talking with Joshua Whitehead and Billy-Ray Belcourt, theyʻre our northern relatives, they're writers and thinkers and I think you're going to love them.
ADRIENNE: Yeah, I mean I'm so excited that we got to have this conversation and I also think it's important, especially for our non Native listeners that we call attention to the fact that these guests are from north of the border, but this is something that we in Indian country don't really recognize that impose border, and really see the folks who are Indigenous to this land to what some communities referred to as Turtle Island is that we're all relatives. I'm someone who has really curated my Twitter follows on online to include folks from Indigenous communities all over the world. And so, I feel like I have so many amazing amazing folks from what is currently known as Canada on my feet every day, and sometimes I feel like I have a much more intimate knowledge of Canadian politics than a lot of folks here in the US, and, while our experiences with settler colonialism, obviously are different, we share so many similarities. So, our guests today, were folks that I first encountered through Twitter and mostly because all of the folks in Canada that I follow would periodically be totally geeking out over their new work and sharing clips of them, reading their work or Billy-Ray talking about his experiences as a Rhodes Scholar. There, they've just been all over my timelines for a long time so I was so excited that we got the chance to snap them up when they were in Washington at the same time we were recording and have this really cool conversation with them.
MATIKA: Joshua Whitehead is a Oji-nêhiyaw member of Peguis First Nation, located in treaty one territory and a Two-Spirit, Indigiqueer. You can find himat the University of Calgary in treaty seven territory, obtaining his PhD in English. Joshua is a poet, and a writer but most importantly, Joshua is a storyteller. The power of his storytelling launched him into the forefront of the literary scene, his poetry collection full metal indigiqueer is indeed as he says, a viral song is a round dance is a jingle dress is medicine. His debut novel, Johnny Appleseed brings together human experience into a tight, understanding of indigeneity and queerness
ADRIENNE: Billy-Ray Belcourt is from the Driftpile Cree Nation and is a PhD student in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. As a Rhodes Scholar Billy-Ray went to the colonizers land to obtain his master's in women's studies which highlighted quote the role of Indigenous women in social resistance movements. His work has been widely published and acclaimed in magazines across Canada, his debut poetry book this wound is a world splits the self wide open and merges into space and place and Indian time his forthcoming work, Indian coping mechanisms Notes from the Field is a synesthesia made it into polyphonic poetry prose and digital art.
MATIKA: So, the podcast that we're producing that you're currently a guest on is called all my relations, and we decided to choose that topic because we've been thinking about our, our relationship based identities, and how our identities are defined by our relationships with ourselves, our relationships with our family, our clan our ancestors and our relationships with land and water. And so we're really interested in the ways that Indigenous communities around the world really are, are still connected to that relationship based identity. And so if you could just introduce yourself with that in mind, in your traditional way you know with your or your how you went to a large group of people with your yourself, your family, your clan your purpose. That would be really meaningful to us.
JOSHUA WHITEHEAD: Yeah So [Native language] Hi my friends, I'm Joshua Whitehead as was said earlier, and I've been thinking about relationality a lot. Specifically, so I'm working on a new book of book of work, tentatively titled “Making Love with the Land”. Leanne Simpson has an essay in her book, as we've always done land as pedagogy, which is like groundbreaking and it's amazing. One of my favorite pieces of writing. What I've been trying to do recently is call myself less of a berry picker and more of a hunter
[laughing] but like thinking about the land itself as yes as pedagogy but specifically I come from Manitoba, Manitoba and Winnipeg, was the kind of the birthplace of Two Spirit as a term in 1990 at the third intertribal annual gay lesbian conference, and then also the Cree word for Manitoba is [speaking Cree] which means the strength of the spirits straight as in terms of the rivers meeting there. So what I've been thinking about recently is okay. When what ways is the land itself already kind of holding what we consider now queer pedagogies, how does the land hold our stories as Two Spirit peoples or as queer Indigenous peoples or as trans Indigenous peoples, and those stories are there. And I like, I like perhaps I've been thinking less of language, and those stories, less as forgotten but more just kind of forgone they seem to be kind of unearthed, refound, reclaimed. So I've been thinking about okay what does it mean for Two-Spirit to grow up in the straits of the spirits, what ways is the strait never straight, and in what in what ways does water, teach us how to be our own best queerness. How does water hold Two-Spirit stories. So, it's really kind of central around Manitoba around the prairies, as already kind of being archives of Two-Spirit events, it's just our job to kind of find those stories again.
ADRIENNE: I love that
BILLY-RAY BELCOURT: [speaking Cree] I'm from the Driftpile Cree Nation, which is in treaty eight territory in northwestern Alberta. I am a PhD student, as was mentioned. My family has a sort of sphere of living, that is localized to the reserve treaty eight the vast majority of my family's there. And Treaty 8, Driftpile, Lesser Slave Lake, which is the body of water that sort of frames that area, both in my mind geographically but also, theoretically, and so my writing I would argue is place based, to the extent that I'm trying to think through how the, the North. Northern Alberta, is a place that is very much circumscribed by history, but because of the absence of a rigorous kind of political literacy, that many people can think themselves outside of that history. So perhaps my work. If there were a governing question, it would be, what is it to be born into a past, while at the same time, illegible to it. And I enter that in similarly as similar way as Josh, which is through the entangled categories of gender, sexuality, race, place.
ADRIENNE: Yeah. Um, and you kind of touched on this in your answer but I often get a lot of questions about the language that we use to identify our selves whenever I'm doing big talks and I know this happens for Matika too people are always like, Well what are the words we're supposed to use to refer to Indigenous peoples or whatever the, what's the term. And I know both of you think a lot about the language that you use identify yourselves in terms of Two-Spirit queer and, Indigiqueer or whatever it is. So I'm wondering if you could share with us, the language that you use to identify yourself in those ways and why that those choices are important to you.
JOSHUA: Well I suppose my mineʻs a mouthful. Joshua Whitehead is an Oji-Cree Two-Spirit Indigiqueer member of Peguis First Nation, which intimidates some people in conferences, I feel like. But I use both terms, because I like Two-Spirit that it kind of calls me back into my indigeneity as much as Indigenous peoples tried to call my queerness or push me out of Indigenous spaces because of my queerness. So that calls me home again it's Winnipeg it's Manitoba that's, that's kind of where it comes from. And so, yeah. For me, I always seem to kind of revolve and gravitate around that term, because it's kind of a means of kind of being living in both worlds simultaneously unabashedly and sexually and powerfully. But at the same time, it's, I think, kind of revolving around terms of sovereignty terms of reconciliation in Canada. And I don't think it's fully in developed within kind of linguistic and kind of modes of identity that are specific to Indigenous peoples. So like the term Two-Spirits, many Indigenous nations and linguistic systems have words for two spirits. That is just kind of the overall pan term that was made, but right now I what I see is a lot of specifically in Canada a lot of homophobia, transphobia, a lot of misogyny. That place is had cis men for primarily in the middle of a vulnerable center right and right now with reconciliation. There's this mood to return to tradition. This move to return to ceremony. And this kind of move to kind of heal, which are powerful gestures Yes, but who I see being placed in these circles is primarily men heterosexual cisgendered men, which kind of leaves Indigenous peoples who are queer trans to spirit on the periphery is in the sidelines and Billy you talked about this in your interview with, I believe, Jessica [last name] of thinking about Okay, we're too focused on the good affects who will be kind of leaving, as you said, I think, in the terrain of bad affects when you say that's mostly Indigenous women Two-Spirit queer and trans peoples. So I like to use the word Two-Spirit. But right now I think it's not fully developed enough to kind of place us into Indigenous worlds, without having to be pained, harmed. removed, or dispossessed entirely. So that this had move towards tradition again this return to tradition if you ever can do such a thing return to ceremony are so kind of wrapped up within neocolonial modes of thinking that there's no space for two spirited people so I can see why a lot of Indigenous peoples don't like the term Two-Spirits because it's so kind of rooted in settler colonialism right and the patriarchy misogyny, etc. So I like to also use use Indigiqueer, which is just the kind of a braiding of the two, which I didn't coin people say I did not coin this.
MATIKA: You popularized it popularized-
JOSHUA: Yeah. But it was just kind of floating in kind of digital spaces on social media so I was like I was gravitating towards that. It works like a hyperlink, you can click it and you just kind of meet amazing Two Spirit peoples, but I like the term because it's a contemporary mode of thinking for Indigenous peoples, because, at least in Cree we never have words for queer, these ways of being, and these identity categories were just normalized. So Chelsea Bala writes a lot about this. So, and so Leanne Simpson and thinking about Indigenous queer normativity. So we ever had words like queer, we had certain terminologies which would address how one lived their life, how they presented, how they enacted in ceremonies and in traditions and in labor forms of working. So I like right now in Indigiqueer, because it removes us from like the model of anthropology, have kind of Two-Spirit peoples were revered that past tense, use of it all the time to place us into kind of this imprisoned past. It puts us in the contemporary moment, it gives us futures, so I like to kind of think of Indigiqueer, as the vehicle, or the momentum or the energy that's driving through spirit. Because right now, I think, Two-Spirits stuck in this kind of a stagnant mode. And it's requires I think new contemporary emerging writers such as Billy-Ray, and Ariel [last name] to kind of theorize. Okay. Where is this going and where do we want it to go to and what kind of past pain traumatized and hurtful is it kind of coming out of and how do we kind of transform those negative effects into perhaps not only survivable ones, but ones that kind of procure futurity too?
ADRIENNE: Yeah, that's one of the first things I think of when I hear Indigiqueer are these ideas of future-isms and like that feels very much of right now and also like of what can be.
BILLY-RAY: And I identify as queer and that has both to do with my sexual life but also my performance of gender, which is sort of more non conforming and I'm interested in thinking about how to corrupt the codes of masculinity, what it means for someone like me to still use he/him pronouns. The like, and I identify as queer and not Two-Spirit because I think I'm too much of a post structuralist in Two-Spirit. But I do absolutely recognize that Two-Spirit is a very charismatic and attractive category because it's for many youth in particular, the first time that they're able to interpolate themselves into an identity, that is at its core Indigenous. So, it does have a kind of harm reductive, and culturally reclaimative sort of function to it. And I think my queerness also is anchored to my sort of personal history, how I in my early teenage years began to conceptualize my identity, and that was partially through theory in the university when I was an undergraduate, in women's studies classes, and in sort of other literary theory courses, and that helped me understand when sexual life is a kind of performative because it brings something about the world in what is brought about is of course disruptive and cacophonous.
ADRIENNE: Because you brought up the power of fury, and being able to eliminate some of those things that we've been experiencing and know but haven't necessarily like seen reflected back to us. You both are such radical innovative thinkers and are also in the spaces of academia, that are very opposite in many ways of that, though we can find those amazing pockets of where things are happening. I'm also a scholar who like went through the whole PhD thing is now a faculty member, so I would love to hear just about your place in these academic spaces and how you think about it how you think about the role of theory in your own work that exists outside of academia, and just how you deal with the day to day opinion in these, these super white colonial spaces, because I know I still struggle with it a lot. So yeah, I would just love to hear about those thoughts.
JOSHUA: Uh huh, how I deal with it, why I'm here. I came to get a pack of American spirits cigarettes. It's difficult. It's exhausting, academia like okay, what does it mean for me as an Ojibwe Cree Two Spirit person to want to write for my communities, using basically a theory, which is great, but it's not accessible. So like, Okay, what does it mean for me to write an essay that's going to become a published piece in so and so's journal. Who is that that's not accessible to the everyday quotidian. I think this is where creative creative arts and we're storytelling comes in, is to be able to take theory digest it, but then regurgitate it in a way that's accessible that's everyday language that steeped perhaps in oral histories of at least with me with Cree speaking um Cree linguistic system so as to take theory, I think this is my job as an academic, is that theory is so fundamental to decolonial your strategies, but it's a strategy that's made by and for the few. So my role and my responsibility I think as a creative writer or storyteller is to take that, put them into stories that are familiar and put them into modes of writing or forms that are familiar but accessible, so I'm trying to do that I don't know how successful I am but the university. Cre- like going into the university or academia asks for you to do two things I think to obliterate your indigeneity at times, because you're I usually the only Indigenous person in that space that's usually very limited of any Indigenous faculty, you be kind of become the Native informant of all Indigenous topics. So in a sense, you have to kind of hyper perform your indigeneity or kind of obliterate it, because if you can't, that's just too much exhaustive work, you'll go home at the end of the day and you're like you need to hibernate like [unintelligible]. But at the same time I feel like it crafts you and asks for you to become like when to go to to consume, like an unneedlessly almost to kind of create these lists that you need to consume and then master. And so it's just has this weird way of you having to take ownership over knowledge, which isn't, which isn't always yours. Knowledge perhaps which is redundant I don't need to reread the canon but I was forced to do so. So it's just asking you continually to craft lists or modes of modes of being or modes of categorization and then to keep consuming them continually over and over and over. So for me like that doesn't work for me, I think it's kind of an outdated way of reading and being and kind of coming to terms with whatever this means to be a master of something to be an expert in any type of topic expertise and knowledge aren't always being found in books. So I think there are alternative ways to do it and I don't think that needs to continually require constant consumption on the part of us as academics. Consumption, most times of our own people's own literature's right. But where is the kind of happy medium between the two and I don't know, I don't know if it's always 50/50 right now it feels like it's for 20/80. But trying to find that is, I suppose what I'm trying to do but for me and always kind of returns to this idea of storytelling and creative writing for me.
MATIKA: For me, I'm not in my community all the time anymore, you know like I grew up in Swinomish. I grew up in Tulalip, but I'm often on the road, you know, and when I left and went to school when I was 17, I didn't come back for seven years I was in South America I was in Europe I was traveling all over the country but I was still writing about my homelands because it feels fundamental to who I am. And it also is terrifying for me to write about Native America when I don't have my auntie there every at every moment to read it, and, and, and so how do you navigate that and and feel confident about writing about something that maybe people are at home or like, you know, how do they respond, and how do you do that. Hmm.
JOSHUA: So the new book that I'm working on is following on the heels of full metal and Johnny, and the work that I'm doing is similar, but it's veiled differently so the new book is a lot of creative nonfiction writing about mental health and queer indigeneity, and how we navigate that and what causes that. So this piece is on insomnia, depression, it's going to be a piece on suicide, eating disorders. First one it's scary to not have a mask that I can put on for Johnny is performing Johnny or that my characters go out performs in full metal. This one is just like me speaking as a person rather than through character, which is terrifying in itself. But at the same time okay like thinking about why am I writing about these topics. Again, a lot of people in my family who are deceased I'm writing about again continually. So I've been thinking of like what ways my writing always and continually an act of mourning, I feel like thinking about ways in which I'm trying to re summon, those who have passed in my life into ways that I can, I can come to, to kind of terms and cope with their death, because the person, the people I'm writing about are my great my great grandmother, my grandma my grandmother, my father's side was murdered in the 60s, which I talked about in full metal, and then also about my aunt who passed away. So my aunt was a she was a paraplegic she was in a car accident on the rez, rolled her van, and was paralyzed from the neck down for seven years. And then she got sick based based on some type of infection. It was later kind of revealed that it was her doctor's kind of misdiagnosis and medication that killed her. Even if that won't be admitted. So she passed, and I've never had the chance to mourn my grandmother, either my grandma one grandma was taken before I was born, but the other one passed when I was doing my masters, and my aunt passed when I was hearing, when I was in Calgary, so like academia and studies, and kind of everyone's like you need to go to post secondary it's gonna change your life, um, hold me from those spaces and I've never given me the ability to mourn them. so I'm continually returning to sites of pain, trying to reanimate these peoples. And so I can kind of come to terms with that because I haven't. Writing his morning but writing is kind of an ethical morning but I'm just trying to like I think wrestle with this idea okay like what are the ethics of mourning and how does that affect and affect the body, but I'm trying to do is perhaps think of what Johnny's cooking teaches him and Johnny Appleseed towards the end of the novel, when she said she's like giving him this kind of mental projection or this lesson, or she says, I humiliation is just a humility you love so much are transformed and I'm really trying to think within Cree because we have animations rather than gender, and we animate things that are non human, such as rock skies but they're those entities and kin to us. So in what ways can we can we make pain, something animate and akin, can we make can we think of pain as kin. And in that way it's going to be made love to and that way is going to be transformed right in what ways does pain become material. And it's a book, because it's a tangible thing you can touch that right and what what ways does pain become material right and how can you manifest the immaterial into the material and thinking about the ways through perhaps Nehiyaw even or the Cree language of how to transform something painful into something manageable. It's not going to be perfect, it's not going to transform into this kind of completely inverse healing object or healing medicine but there are ways in which that can be moved shifted and changed, such as just kind of the project that I'm working on right now, I'm trying to do it as quickly as I can because there's so many. It's like my, I have my one of my sister cousins is suicidal because of her mother, and there's just like manic depression in the family and all across Turtle Island there's just like youth suicides are so extremely high. Because there's a topics that we don't talk about perhaps there, as you would say in that kind of terrain if that affects right so really trying to like think of them as bad affects of the things that hurt as kin. I think it's important.
BILLY-RAY: It's beautiful. Yeah, like we can just collectively cry.
ADRIENNE: And like that yeah just the idea of like writing through these painful things as a way of of mourning of dealing with it and processing it i think is what I do a lot in my work as well so if it's really powerful.
BILLY-RAY: What's interesting there is your writing not to disappear pain, but to in flesh it and to not try to sublimate it into something else so I think it's really important. If you haven't really heard it conceptualized in that way.
MATIKA: I want to talk about gallstones and healthcare. And I, and I actually am really interested in what all of you have kind of your take on that but I want you sort of to introduce that for the listener that doesn't know why I would bring up gallstones.
BILLY-RAY So in 2016, I did a TED talk called gallstones in the colonial politics of the future. I think if I was thinking more entrepreneurially I would have called it, How I got gallstones at 20 or something that just catches people's eyes anyways. Since 19, I had these late night episodes in which my body felt like it was like rebelling against me, and I had them quite steadily until about 21, when I had the worst episode ever so much pain and I thought I was actually dying, and for whatever reason they still didn't call the ambulance and drove myself to the hospital in Lemington. I remember like being crouch through about half my size and like using a ball to pull myself through the hospital to get to the emergency room. And it was about 6am, December, 21, if I'm remembering correctly, 2015. And so I do the normal thing which is checking with the triage center they asked me some questions, they direct me to the lobby where I sit down and I noticed there's a few other white dudes in the emergency room. They're very seamlessly moved from triage to the doctor's care. And because my pain is so intense, I actually canʻt sit down and so I'm laying down on the floor and moving around a lot, and then two security officers are called to tell me to sit still, or they'll remove me. And so what I how I respond, is by just going into the bathroom, instead of walking around until my name is called and then the doctor comes gets me pulls me to a room to make sure I'm not lying about my pain, and when he determines that I'm not, I'm like three or four hours later diagnosed with gallstones, and it was quite shocking to him, because most people don't get diagnosed with gallstones, until their 40s, but I remember reading this one statistic that like upwards of 80% of Native people will have gallstones during their lifetime. And there are some tribes in the US, in particular, I think in New Mexico were like almost all of the Native women there get gallstones. So, very immediately. I knew that I was in the thick of a kind of historical process. And that my body, very clearly wasn't mine. I didn't have sovereign control over it. And I remember as a teen I always felt this sense that I had to jam pack all this living as much living as I could because I didn't think that I could last that long, and perhaps that's why I sort of have lived the sort of life that I've lived at 23, 24, because I'm sort of subconsciously I still am motored by that fear.
MATIKA: I had the same fear I, by the time I was 25 I'd been to like every continent, graduated from school when I was like, 20 years old because I was convinced that I wasn't going to make it past 25, because I so many of my friends had died. And it's just as a very real experience I went to a very small school. And when I was a freshman in high school, we started school with 19 Indians in my class, and only two of us graduated and half of them had died by the time we tuned 21. So it's not an illegitimate fear. And, you know, the health care experience when I was reading that this morning really resonated with me because last week, one of my cousins passed away. And like one of my really close cousins, and a week before that she had gone into the doctor and had such severe pain. And then, the doctors refused to give her any sort of pain medication, and, you know, we're still unsure the outcome. But, allegedly there was pain pills that were that have caused like three or four different overdoses on edge on my rez in the last two weeks. And so there's this very real connection to healthcare in our, in like our favorite people dying. And, and that that falls, very much in line with the racism and colonialism that we're fighting against and the ways that affects our lives in our bodies. And I've never been able to write about that, you know, in the way that you talked about healing through writing or. I just haven't ever found the courage to do that. So I appreciate you talking about health care and the way that affects you know our work. And I'm wondering, have you, you know, have you also had that experience, or you Adrienne. And could you guys talk about that?
JOSHUA: In terms of my health care myself?
MATIKA: Or your family or your community?
JOSHUA: I a lot I'm gonna add fuel to the fire. I also had gallstones. My father was a 60s scoop survivor, went to residential schools and day schools, in and out of Alberta and Manitoba was then, in and out of [unintelligible] schools or incarceration, because of foster cares, and then because of this like longevity of history, a history of substance abuse, alcoholism, ended up having cancer twice. His kidney was removed a quadruple bypass. And every single time that I've kind of. I was younger, but we would kind of go within these spaces. You can see the kind of contrast of treatment between himself and as a, as a visible Indigenous person, and how he was treated and how he was kind of medicated and diagnosed was radically different than literally sharing the room beside him right. But I think the most important thing that kind of navigates my life right now is my mother. So she has fibromyalgia, and she kind of lives wracked in pain on a daily basis, she said to me, she said, I've never had a single moment in my life for the past 20 years where I wasn't in consistent pain. And I'm trying to wonder. Okay, I'm trying to think about the ways in which the body and pain, specifically through her example are always in a constant mode of undoing, and a constant mode perhaps of losing the control of one's body and a constant means of always being continually wracked with pain. And what does that mean how does one navigate the world like that? So that, that's a mode of thinking that's always kind of in the back of my mind because I see when I go home I see her. She folds laundry, her hands are sore for three days, she just told me she texted me today saying her water broke she had to kind of vacuum the water out of the carpets, and she's like I probably canʻt to move for three days after this. So like I'm just trying to kind of conceptualize that and think about the ways in which the body is and consistent modes of pain.
BILLY-RAY So descriptive of what it is to be Native.
ADRIENNE: Yeah and thatʻs what I was thinking, too. Well and then, so in your TED talk you talk about those ties to colonialism and settler colonialism through this experience and can you talk about that a little bit too, and like the ways it affects our bodies?
BILLY-RAY Yeah, I think that part of how I tried to connect my gallstones to the coloniality of the world was through this ever present sense that the body was in perhaps the key container for political life and that it wasn't a place where I could enact a kind of tribal or Indigenous sovereignty like in Joshua's mom's case where there's always a chronic illness, sort of being pulled out of your body is so politically pressing, you know it's like profoundly disturbing that that is not anomalous in Native communities. I am reminded of some of the work of Dr. Janet Smiley who's a critical health studies researcher and a doctor in Toronto. She has been in the news, quite frequently over the past few years for her ability to quantitatively show that doctors across the board across the country differentially treated in treating people, and I think too but like I feel most racialized in a hospital or a doctor's office will often joke about like trying to dress as bougie as possible when I am so sick because they want to try to signify my way out of their stereotypes,
ADRIENNE: But and then my experience is like different because I am a white coding woman so when I walk into these spaces I am coded as a white woman and so I don't get that racialized experience but I have dealt with so many health issues that I feel come directly from my historical trauma my, like the experiences of being a Native woman and I'm literally sitting here right now waiting for a phone call from my doctor to know if my cervical cancer came back so it's like an every woman in my family all of my Aunties on the Native side everyone's had a hysterectomy everyone has had their womb removed from them very early on in their life for various ailments and reasons, so when I like watched your TED talk and when we're thinking about these ideas as the body and the relationship to colonialism. It's so real in so many ways like both the visceral experience of being marked Native person in those spaces but then also like what we carry with us but it's like from those spaces and that past and everything so, I think, yeah, both Matika and I was wearing when we're thinking about talking with you. There's so much going on this is so this is good timing.
MATIKA: We are going to take a moment to listen to Billy Ray recite some poetry, and then talk through it
BILLY-RAY: Love and heartbreak are fuck buddies who sometimes text each other at 10 in the morning. Today love asks, Is this what the living do as he tries to shit, but can't, because he doesn't eat enough fiber or exercise regularly. It's the little things that'll kill me, he adds. Heartbreak responds, ignoring the first message. You emptied your body into the floorboards of me. Creak when I'm lonely. If I am a haunted house, then let's make up a theory of negativity that notices the utopian pulse of sad stories like ours. Oh fuck, Love types out. He deletes it. He sends a selfie with the caption. How's this for a theory of negativity? Heartbreak laughs true, he quips. Love doesn't respond right away. He thinks there is something clear about leaving loose ends untied of his Native boy from northern Alberta who decided almost everything he does in an attempt to repair the brokenness of being that is indigeneity. Last month love fucked a security guard in the basement of a parkade at midnight. Locking the door behind love, the security guard job. Don't worry. I'm not going to kill you or anything. Love wonders if it is a possibility of being killed that partly animates his desires. That's fucked up. Heartbreak tells love when love tells him the story. Love hypothesizes that the parkade basement might be a metonym for the world. Heartbreak thinks out loud. How do you know when the world is not that basement anymore? Thank you [Native language]
MATIKA: Would you like to talk a little about what you were thinking with your writing that I was going through in your own life?
BILLY-RAY: Yeah, I will say that that was supposed to be the first poem in the book. But it got moved to the second, which is not my choice because I think that it frames the project, which is one of trying to determine how to live in these bases, where it seems all of the logics of the settler state are manifesting so in that parkade basement I felt that I was very much a kind of over-determined subject that everything from my survivability to my desirability were incredibly circumscribed in that it wasn't actually a joke that we're not going to kill you. It was a kind of confession that that could happen. Yeah, it's just such a powerful description I think of the obvious already possibility of our dying or being killed and and I think what the book in general does is attempts to show that it is in the realm of sexual life, where the world is made and unmade where it's won or lost. I think that's probably a good place to end
ADRIENNE: Josh what I wanted to talk with you about in terms of having read a little bit of your writing is slightly different so if you'd like to share a poem or read something that would be amazing as well but I wanted to talk about the Lambda Literary Award and that beautiful letter that you wrote for listeners well Josh Iʻll let you tell the story of of what happened with that and then if you'd like to read a portion of that and would love that.
JOSHUA: Sure. Um, so the lambda literary awards are kind of a prominent award categorization within the US for LGBTQ peoples. So I was awarded or nominated. sorry, I'm shortlisted with full metal indigo queer, under the trans poetry categorizations. So I, I was like, okay, two things are happening here, one you're kind of using Two-Spirit and using in ways that misdirect its meaning. And two, you're interpolating me as trans because of this, you quickly Googled or used Wikipedia to tell you what Two Spirit means masculine and feminine spirits thereby they must be trans. So I was like, Okay, I need to maintain an ethics of relationality between myself and my communities and myself and my allies. Some of my best friends and maybe most people in the world are trans and so I had some conversations I spoke with Gwen Benaway, Kai Cheng Tom, [name] to ask Okay, what do I do, cuz I knew, I knew that the trans categorizations have recently been made within the last seven years by trans women of color, you can win technically without having to self identify. Your characters can perhaps be trans but for me, that feels like a cheap win. That is not my space to take many spaces have been taken from me so I cannot take a space from them so I withdrew the letter, tried to be as humble, as I could be there's I was very honored to be a part of that. But there is also that points to kind of a vanishing point within their own award categorizations that Two-Spirit don't fit. Maybe you should start them. That was kind of the whole basis around that.
MATIKA: Well and it's so powerful and bold and meaningful and I think it's a really. For me, it was, it's very humbling to watch another person go through that process because we're very rarely recognized for our work at all, and silenced in the media, and, you know, like, I find it's very hard for us to find funding and to find spaces and so to make that very bold move was just inspiring for me. So thank you.
JOSHUA: Well I think literature is a type of accountability too. I'm accountable to my characters just like with Johnny I'm accountable to my communities and Peguis First nation. my larger communities, Iʻm accountable to Two Spirit queer trans people's like so that I need to be accountable at all times. And portray and ethics of care for those that I think that is for me the epitome of what literature should be doing is crafting worlds but crafting ethically. So good did you want me to read a bit from this? I havenʻt returned to this in so long. Okay maybe Iʻll just start with this. There are words for people like me with a [Native language] words like [Native language] a man who dresses as a woman, [Native language] a woman who dresses as a man or [Native language], a man dressed living accepted as a woman, and [Native language] a woman dressed living accepted as a man. These of course are taken from Chelsea [last name], and they may not be all terminologies for what you may call queerness within Indigenous worldviews, but they are the ones that have been gifted in story from folks such as Chelsea [last name], and storytelling with my other kin. If there are more or if I have these wrong, I apologize settler colonialism has taken so much from our mother tongues. But in [Native language] when we divide language into categorizations of animate and inanimate rather than masculine and feminine, and it is through that we hold ourselves accountable to all of our relations, of which we include things deemed inanimate by Western ways of being, and knowing full metal indigiqueer is born with that language in mind. My narrator Zoa is a cybernetic virus that is agender, asexual, asexed, because queerness is not the word we know, we know relationships and accountability and our birth into our communities, knowing our role, and how it is, we must contribute. I am an [Native language], a storyteller, and I know our role, and how it is, we must contribute in making space for indigenous folks whose languages and identities do not fit within those paradigms of queerness. My narrator embraces fully the fluidity that two Sq allows but doesn't fully embody either or an already way. To put it in the easiest sense for Western languages to understand. I live my life as a gay femme and not as a trans Indigenous person. I see my trans brother and sister and who have paved the way for these trans categorizations to be included recognized honored and valued within lambda, and only recently, may I add, and I love them all the more for it. To be a trans woman and furthermore to be an Indigenous trans woman is a fight I do not know, cannot know and do not seek to further violate and deal in it. I stand by my trans kin fully and I having lived through the intergenerational trauma of missing and murdered Indigenous women and here Iʻll add girls and two spirit peoples, the 60 scoop day schools transracial adoption. Know in my heart and spirits that I am not a proper candidate for this award. After much talk with my communities and kin, I have come to the conclusion conclusion that I must withdraw my name and stories from this wonderful nomination because it is not my space to occupy. Occupation being a story, I know all too well.
BILLY-RAY: I love how you just cast all the shade.
MATIKA: So beautiful.
ADRIENNE: Thank you. Man I just love listening to Josh read that letter I think it's so powerful, and I think this whole conversation just I feel so grateful that we got to have it with Josh and Billy-Ray,
MATIKA: That letter, like breaks me wide open I've listened to this recording of him, reading that letter, like, I don't know, a couple dozen times now and every time it brings tears to my eyes. It's so beautiful.
ADRIENNE: And I think one thing that we had that kind of comes up for me in listening to that episode that we didn't really touch on eas this a little bit more about this term Two Spirit, um, Matika, I know that you have spent some time like with at the Two Spirit powwow in California, and like doing some film work around that. Can you tell us a little bit about that work that you've done?
MATIKA: Mm hmm. I was invited to the Two Spirit powwow Bates, the Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirit Powwow in San Francisco, and I was, I was just so inspired by the experience that I put a little film together, and then the film picked up a bunch of positive reviews. People were super excited to to see that kind of work and my project. And so then I was like invited to the, to the international transgender Film Festival to show to show that film, and I was invited to several other Two Spirit gatherings around the United States to go and photograph and do some storytelling. So I ended up putting together this whole exhibition. And part of my work has been focused on pho- photographing people that identify as Two Spirit in Indian country so we've put together an exhibition of about 50 pieces now. And that was just showing on Capitol Hill in Seattle. It's currently not showing anywhere but the the response was really, really shocking for me I didn't. I was not familiar with the violence that our Two-Spirit relatives experience. It wasn't until I would be, you know, in a public location showing the film and talking about that experience and telling stories from those communities that I, you know, people would get up and they would leave in the middle of my talk when I would start talking about Two-Spirit rights. Others would like giggle and turn away and make strange faces and others would tell me that I didn't have a right to be having that conversation and it became this very polarized experience for me and so I. It was around that time that it became very clear to me that I needed to do more of that work and become a better ally, you know I I know some of the like from the 2spirits.com website I looked at some of the statistics that and this is from, from up north but they say that like 60% of Two-Spirit women have experienced homophobia in their communities. 73% of women wants to know how to protect themselves from abuse. We know that that our Two Spirit relatives experience the highest rates of domestic violence, sexual assault and these like terrible reports of homophobia in their communities. And so, I mean just the other day I was doing this, I was interviewing some people here in these communities. And I was asking them about, you know, Two Spirit identity and traditional understandings of Two-Spirit identity and. And I sort of got to talking to them this grandma about our confused millennials, you know like we need to get our get our lives together and stop being so confused you know and this is a person who experienced violence herself was from the Catholic Church going to boarding schools and and forced assimilation practices and so you know in some ways it's not surprising for us to in our communities to, you know, that are many of our elders are still, you know, very homophobic, and, you know, I don't want to argue with, with the grandma so I didn't, but, you know, but I also feel like maybe we're not confused as millennials about our gender identities maybe we're just finally safe enough to have conversations and to return to or, if that's even possible like Joshua says but, you know, to have the opportunity to re open those traditional understandings.
ADRIENNE: Just listening to you talk about that and like the power of being able to identify as Two Spirit to a lot of folks in our communities, um, and of course like this is not a term that everyone uses or even likes I think it's something that holds a lot of power for certain individuals, but hearing those stories and I know like watching the video that you made at the Bates Powwow and everything like there's so much power in it, and then that's why it really bothers me when non Natives, use this term to refer to themselves. So, there are like organizations and people who refer to themselves as Two-Spirit when they are non Indigenous people. And to me, that is an active cultural appropriation that is taking something that was created by and for our community, and using it in a way that it was not created for with this system of power around it. And I think that it's important for non Natives to recognize that history and the importance of this term for folks from these communities and respect that and respect that boundary that they should not necessarily be crossing,
MATIKA: You know, maintaining a Two Spirit identity in our communities means that, you know, there had to have been for those individuals coming out and the process of trying to find belonging and acceptance in their communities and sometimes that was an easy loving process but for most you know most of the Two-Spirit people I've had the opportunity to interview they talk about that experience in a very in a way that was very traumatic. And so there's been this fight to maintain the right to use that language and to become that person to identify that way and, and I just don't think that it's appropriate for us to to use that word out of, out of these indigenous spaces.
ADRIENNE: I agree. I just wanted to offer a huge wafo and thank you to our guests to Joshua Whitehead and Billy-Ray Belcourt for spending time and talking story and sharing with us. It was so awesome to get to talk with them.
MATIKA: We've learned so much from you, Joshua and Billy and we love you so much thank you so much for, for coming and spending time with us and Adrienne will keep Twitter stalking you.
ADRIENNE: Yeah and I think, Billy Ray's book, “NDN Coping Mechanisms” has a release date of I think it's September 13. Um, so it'll be coming out soon.
MATIKA: And can we just shout out our Indigenous scholars real quick isn't it Adrienne like one in 10,000 Indigenous people go on to get a PhD and how profoundly powerful it is that these two are doing that work it's really a beautiful thing and I'm so proud of them.
ADRIENNE: Yeah, I love it, I love geeking out with other Native scholars, it makes me really really happy. This conversation about appropriation is something that we are going to continue more in depth on the next episode
MATIKA: Yeah tune in to have a conversation with us. A whole conversation, dedicated to cultural vulturing also known as the Native appropriations.
ADRIENNE: Something I know a little bit about.
MATIKA: You're gonna have the opportunity to hear from the master herself on cultural appropriation, get excited people, it's about to get real.
ADRIENNE: Thanks, Matika.
MATIKA: I just crack myself up.