For the history of Two-Spirit people across Turtle Island, there is no place better to search than the Two-Spirit Archives at the University of Winnipeg.
Considered the most comprehensive collection of materials in the country, the Two-Spirit Archives is the only archive in the country with a mandate focused solely on documenting the history of Two-Spirit people.
“I think Two-Spirit people, due to colonial practice, have sort of been told that their histories don’t matter, and they absolutely do,” says Brett Lougheed, university archivist and digital curator for the archives.
The collection is overseen by Lougheed and is guided by a Two-Spirit Advisory Council, made up of Indigenous people with differing gender and sexual identities, to provide their point of view on the archive’s inner workings.
The Two-Spirit Archives first began in 2011 after council member and activist Albert McLeod, 67, donated over 40 years’ worth of material to the university archives.
“This collection here is part of my journey,” says McLeod, director of 2Spirit Consultants of Manitoba. “I didn’t want it lost. I didn’t want to throw it in the garbage. I wanted it to continue to tell the story of my journey of survival.”
McLeod, who identifies as a fabulous animate being, says a strong sense of self instilled in them by their Cree grandmother is what gave them the strength to keep going in the face of adversity during the late 20th century.
“For my journey, you know, in the queer movement that began in the late ‘70s, I wanted to create a legacy of that you don’t need to compromise your identity,” says McLeod, “You can be your authentic self, especially as an Indigenous person in these treaty areas of Manitoba. Like, we don’t need to compromise, we don’t need to apologize for who we are.”
McLeod says having a place where these items of love, acceptance, and pride can be kept safe is necessary as many belongings of historical value get thrown out when Two-Spirit people pass away.
“When you die, if you’re estranged from your family, your community, your stuff by the landlord gets thrown in the dumpster! And so, I have great concerns for that Two-Spirit history. That … their collections will be lost, their photographs will be lost, the names in the photos, the people, the places, the events will be lost to history,” says McLeod.
Shirts donning Two-Spirt pride, photographs of community members, and even a jingle dress with rainbow ribbons and matching beadwork crown donated by Two-Spirit activist Kelly Houle make up only some of the wide variety of items visitors can find.
“[Items] are coming from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s when Indigenous people were activists for their human rights,” says McLeod, “We were walking along in that period and we’ve done our own journey as well. So it’s not one group of rights, like, human rights belong to everyone and the Two-Spirit narrative, the Two-Spirit path needs to be included with Indigenous activism, Indigenous liberation in Canada.”
In agreement, Lougheed says the Two-Spirit Archives are a reclamation of space for Two-Spirit people.
“The 2s archives tells a story of decolonization, of resurgence, of celebration of 2S people,” says Lougheed, “It tells the story of 2S people being exposed to genocide, to cultural genocide, and demonstrating that 2S people through these horrific tactics are here, they remained, they survived, and now they are finding their place.”
Lougheed says it’s important that there is space for preserving and sharing the stories of Two-Spirit people for the community now and in the future.
“Our hope is that [the archives] instill a sense of belonging within the community, demonstrating that Two-Spirit people were always here, will continue to be here, are important, and provide valuable contributions to society,” says Lougheed.
Though most materials are from decades past, Mcleod says the history of Two-Spirit people is still in the making
“We have young 2s people now who are meme makers, they’re filmmakers, they’re singers, they’re artists. They’re out there in the world creating all this very fabulous important stuff and we need to collect that, and remember it, and preserve it.“
The Two-Spirit Archives are open to anyone wishing to visit them and they are actively seeking donations.