Books for Two-Spirit Pride!

The term Two-Spirit is a term used within Indigenous communities to refer to specific Indigenous understandings of gender, sexuality and spirituality. The word is an umbrella term and there are different terms, responsibilities and roles for Two-Spirit people that are specific to each nation. The purpose of this term is to reflect the historical roles and spaces for diverse gender expressions and sexualities within Indigenous communities. For Pride Month, OISE Library has selected a few books written by Two-Spirit authors and featuring Two-Spirit characters. These books are a valuable resource because they share underrepresented Two-Spirit stories in a community specific way that centers the experiences of Indigenous people. As such, the following books deal with difficult, and sensitive topics but treats them with care. They range from perspectives of children learning more about their identity, to Elders sharing their insights and wisdom.  

Fire Song, the debut novel by Adam Garnet Jones is a YA adaptation of his 2015 film that was shortlisted for the CODE Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Young Adult Literature. This book is centered around various choices that the protagonist, Shane, must make in the aftermath of grief and loss. Shane, a gay Anishnaabe teenager, dreams of moving to Toronto to go to university; however, this is complicated by the suicide of his sister and the resulting effects that it has on his family. Furthermore, he is also struggling with a queer relationship that he must hide from his community and wants to move to the city where he wants to live openly. Fire Song revolves around the decisions that Shane must make about whether he should stay and support his family or leave and live truthfully. This book takes a critical look at how even making the “right choices” doesn’t have the same impact when you’re facing layers of systemic barriers that inevitably shape the outcomes of your life. The stories are crafted with beautiful language, including excerpts of poetry that tie together the emotional waves of this story. This book is recommended for readers age 13 to 17. 

A Two-Spirit Journey is an autobiographical book written by Ma-Nee Chacaby, a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder. This book shares an account of her life, and the multitude of socio-economic barriers which she overcame throughout her life. It starts off with her childhood in a remote Anishinaabe community where poverty and alcoholism remain as legacies of colonialism. In this autobiography, Elders sharing knowledge is an important theme as Ma-Nee Chacaby provides profound insights on what it means to journey through life as a Two-Spirit person, and she also shares the importance of Elders as she talks about the spiritual and cultural traditions that she learned from her own grandmother and step-father.

47 000 Beads is beautiful: in both the story, as well as the illustrations that surround it. It is a children’s picture book written by by Koja Adeyoha, Angel Adeyoha and illustrated by Holly McGillis. This story is written by a Two-Spirit Lakota author about a character named Peyton who enjoys dancing at the powwow. However, she expresses that she isn’t comfortable wearing a dress anymore and her Aunt asks a few friends to help Peyton get what she needs. This book is much needed because stories about Two-Spirit Indigenous children is very underrepresented. Furthermore, this book is also great representation for showing what validating and empowering relationships can look like. In this story her family is able to come together to show Peyton that they accept her and help her discover what being two-spirit means. This book is intended for readers age 5 – 7. 

Surviving the City is a graphic novel debut by Tasha Spillet-Sumner who draws from her Cree and Trinidadian heritage to write a story about friendship and resilience. It follows the story of Dez and Miikwan who are extremely close Indigenous teens. When Dez disappears, Miikwan is devastated and old wounds resurface. The novel visualises the trauma of missing a loved one through the appearances of various spirits throughout the novel. The illustrations within the graphic novel carry as much weight as the dialogue and through that, this novel confronts some of the worst legacies of colonialism. Spillet also provides an appendix in the book entitled “Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People” which gives more context and provides suggestions for further readings.This book is recommended for readers age 9 to 13. 

About Subhanya Sivajothy

TALint (Toronto Academic Libraries Intern) at the OISE Library | Master of Information Candidate, 2020 | University of Toronto
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