Heritage of Pride: LGBTQ and Two-Spirit Month
Who Am I?
My English name is Connor Ulmer, my Tlingit name is Deikeenaak’w (Little Haida). My grandfather, George Obert, was the person who had the name and was given to me in 2002 at his Koo.éek’ (Potlatch). I am Kaagwaantaan (Eagle/Wolf) from the Kóok Hít (Box House) originating out of Sheet’ká (Sikta, AK), but I was born and raised in Aak’w Kwáan (Juneau, AK) land.
I work for Tlingit & Haida in the Tribal Court as the Administrative Assistant to the Court Administrator and Judicial Officers. I have been with Tlingit & Haida since 2017. I am proud to be working for my Tribe, especially in the Judicial branch. I have been able to learn about bringing healing and wellness to our communities from our Chief Justice Ka’illjuus (Lisa Lang) and Associate Justice Cheryl Demmert-Fairbanks. I have worked with and learned so much from some of the biggest advocates for Tribal Courts. Including, but not limited to, former Presiding Judge Debra O’Gara and former Chief Justice Michelle Demmert. I have been taught to recognize the people who have taught me, those four women have taught me so much about healing and wellness and Tribal Court along with Associate Justice Aurora Lehr, Magistrate Judge Trinidad Contreras, Court Administrator Frances Andrews and many more.
I would also like to take a moment and say Gunalchéesh (Thank You) to Rebekah Contreras for speaking on the difficult topic of Menta Health Awareness. Mental Health is something that everyone should take seriously, and I am happy for Rebekah’s leadership roles in standing up for mental health and our people. Also, Gunalchéesh to RurAL CAP and Resource Basket for asking me to help spotlight Two-Spirit and LGBTQ Pride Month.
LGBTQ and Two-Spirit
Cultural factors: How does your native traditions and culture affect your characteristics, gender roles, and attitudes toward gender identity?
What I have been taught by my elders and clan leaders is that there have always been Two-Spirit and LGBTQ people in our villages. Two-Spirit and LGBTQ people have always held roles in our villages and had to hold them to help make sure that everyone in the village would survive. One of the major roles that they may have held would have been that of our íxt’, the shaman of the community who would work with the yéik, the spirit helper of an íxt’, and conduct powerful ceremonies to cure various ailment, locate lost people and more. Knowing that Two-Spirit and LGBTQ people could hold such a powerful role in the community just shows that we cared about the person as a whole and not just their sexuality.
One of the other practices that male Two-Spirit and LGBTQ people could practice was the weaving of the naaxein (Chilkat blanket). Naaxein weaving is a practice that is traditionally only done by women of the community, the one exception for a male to weave naaxein is to be Two-Spirit or LGBTQ. When weaving, this is when you are the closest to the spirit realm and are the veil between the physical and spirit worlds. This again just shows how much of a role LGBTQ and Two-Spirit people play in their community.
What is your message of hope to other youth and young adults who may be struggling with their two-spirit identity?
One of the best things that people can do is talk to someone you trust about your gender identity and/or sexual orientation. This could be a family member, community leader or anyone who you trust. Another person you could talk to is someone who is Two-Spirit or LGBTQ, someone who has been where you are currently.
Be who you are! That is what you do best. If that means you are a part of the Two-Spirit and LGBTQ community and you want to tell everyone and be at all the events – go for it! If you want to only tell a close group of people and not go to LGBTQ events that is fine. In the end, the only thing that really matter is that you be brilliant at being yourself. Do whatever is best for you and be proud of yourself.
What actions and ceremonies have you and your tribal community held to stamp out negative attitudes and hate towards LGBT native youth?
Celebrating LGBT native youth
One of the biggest things that Tlingit & Haida has done is to allow any person to enter a marriage regardless of their gender. One of the best things about this is that from the time the marriage statute was adopted on February 22, 2015. The Tribe allowed two people to enter a marriage regardless of their gender. This was done before same sex marriage was legalized nationwide. Another amazing thing that has just recently happened is that Todd Gloria was the first openly gay and person of color (Tlingit) to be elected as the mayor of San Diego. That just also shows to our native youth that you can really do what ever you set your mind to.
What are things that still need to be worked on?
One of thing that I believe our communities could work on is making sure that the youth who want to stay in the villages stay, regardless of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Some of the villages across Alaska views are so harsh that people will move away because they are afraid of what might happen to them if they come out as Two-Spirit or LGBTQ in that community. It is already hard to keep people wanting to stay in their home village.
The Resource Basket