This month our blog is featuring a newly developed branch of fYrefly in Schools (a free education program for students in grades 7-12 in Edmonton & area) called Where The Rivers Meet. The program is an iSMSS educational initiative designed by Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ Indigenous peoples. Find out more about Where The Rivers Meet below:
Where did the name of the program come from?
The name of the program is Where the Rivers Meet and it was chosen to represent the fluidity of the lived experiences of Two-Spirit, and LGBTQ+ Indigenous youth. A confluence (where two rivers meet) is a place that is sacred among Indigenous people. It is a place where elders and knowledge keepers come to reconnect with the land, replenish their knowledge, and a place where we bring our youth to help them connect with the creator. By intentionally naming this program after such an important place in our culture we hope to show Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ Indigenous youth that they are welcome and that they have community to go to that honours who they are as a whole person: mind, body, emotion, and spirit.
What is the history of the program?
Where the Rivers Meet is a project that began under the fYrefly in Schools (FINS) umbrella which focuses on leadership workshops designed to combat homophobia and transphobia in junior and senior high schools in Edmonton and surrounding area.
- In 2015, FINS reached out to culturally-based* schools and provided: 6 workshops to 116 students and 17 teachers.
- In 2016, FINS provided 22 workshops to culturally-based schools, reaching 448 students, and 44 teachers.
*schools that include various Indigenous teachings as part of curriculum and school culture.
In November 2016, we held a Talking Circle consultation to gauge community needs; the circle included indigenous educators, indigenous representatives from community organizations, two-spirit youth, and fYrefly in Schools facilitators.
After this Talking Circle it became clear that the community needs expressed required a more specialized approach than the current fYrefly in Schools program could offer and a decision was made to create a sister program called Where the Rivers Meet that ran alongside fYrefly in Schools but focused more on the individualized needs of indigenous communities.
Who are the Educators?
Great question! Currently our workshops are run by Shayne & Charis:
Shayne (Little Bird) is a trans visitor from nistawâyâw (Fort McMurray) of nehiyaw and nitsitapi roots living in Treaty 6 territory in Amiskwaciy, on the traditional homelands of the Papaschase Cree, Métis, Blackfoot, Saulteaux, Nakoda Sioux and Cree nations. They carry with them teachings from the north of a myriad of Métis, Chipewyan, Blackfoot and Cree chosen and biological family. They use they/them pronouns and hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Alberta. They are committed to uplifting kayâs-isîhcikêwin (the old ways) and advocating for the centering of the voices that exist at the intersections of LGBTQIA+, mental health, and indigeniety.
Charis (they/them) is a two-spirit mother from Bigstone Cree Nation who is committed to wîsahkecâhk-ing through our institutions and making better and safer spaces for the seven generations that have yet to come and to make spaces for two-spirit youth to achieve everything that they were told they could not have as indigenous young people. They are an alumni from the University of Alberta and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Native Studies and a Certificate in Aboriginal Governance and Partnership.
What kinds of services does the program offer?
Our program goal is to uplift and empower Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ Indigenous youth. In order to do this we have to empower entire communities to build structures of support around these youth.
This program uses traditional knowledges and teachings to focus on building tools for Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ Indigenous allyship and advocacy with Indigenous (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit) youth, their schools and their communities at large.
Our workshops help to:
- reduce discrimination against sexual and gender minority youth,
- increase awareness of the impacts of homo/bi/transphobia,
- integrate local knowledges and teachings into allyship and advocacy practices
Where the Rivers Meet delivers workshop plans that offer support on a multitude of levels: peer- to-peer education for youth (between the ages of 14-24) both within the school system and outside of it (such as group homes, youth drop-in centres, and others!), professional development for educators in the school systems, and for frontline / support staff in social service and child welfare environments.
This style of workshops are designed to follow the teachings of the medicine wheel with each section focusing on bringing the whole community into the conversation. Each of these groups of people are instrumental to the health and well-being of Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ Indigenous youth. It is our belief that it takes a whole community to raise a child and that awareness and advocacy needs to happen at every level.
We work primarily in the Edmonton region but are expanding to serve indigenous communities, schools, and organizations all across Alberta. We also offer some professional development training for those adults who are looking for ways to support Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ Indigenous youth.
What does a typical workshop look like?
Our workshops typically have four parts and look like this:
The initial booking process starts when we get an email or a phone call from a school or community group that wants us to come and give a workshop. At this stage we ask some environmental questions to get a feel for the space we are entering . We also work with you to schedule the Consultation Teach-In, Workshop Session, and Future Planning Sessions at this time.
Consultation / Teach In
This stage of the workshop involves a focus group of key members of the workshop audience (such as students, GSA [Gender & Sexuality Alliance] members, teachers, and/or principals depending on the setting). It is intended to help us tailor our presentation according to the environment we are entering as well helping to give the youth a chance to voice what they need, and provide the adults with some professional development.
Our session usually run around two -hours and involve a lot of audience participation as we cover different LGBTQ+ terms, pronouns, the impact of homophobia / transphobia, colonial history and how it affects the way we relate to each other now, and ways to support two-spirit / LGBTQ+ Indigenous youth in everyday life.
After the session is done we will follow up by phone with the members of the focus group to debrief the session. During this part we talk about strategies about ways educators, front-line workers, youth, and administration can continue to support Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ Indigenous youth well after the workshops are done.
What are the founding values for the program?
In February 2017, the coordinator for this project took tobacco and print into ceremony and prayed to the grandmothers and grandfathers for guidance alongside a knowledge keeper and received three instructions from the creator on how to run this program: wâhkôhtowin, wîtaskîwin, and wicihitowin. The rough translation from nehiyawewin (Cree language) of these instructions is to foster good relations, peace, and share in friendship and responsibility. The educators of this program continue to go into ceremony on a regular basis to reaffirm our commitment to the seven generations before and after us and to continue moving forward in a good way.
We have interpreted / adapted these instructions into three founding values:
Inter-Community Healing Mandate
Where the Rivers Meet is a program that is designed to empower and uplift Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ Indigenous youth. In order to do this successfully, we need to help nurture them at every level in their school community. This includes:
- peer-to-peer education for students
- professional development for educators
- professional development for frontline / support staff
Each of these groups of people are instrumental to the health and well-being of Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ Indigenous youth in a school environment. They are the people they see everyday, the people who they look up to as mentors, and they are institutional support structures to help these youth succeed in their journeys.
Where the Rivers Meet recognizes that each Indigenous community in Alberta is drastically different in ideologies, traditions and ceremonies.
When engaging with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities we plan to honour and uphold their rights to exist as sovereign nations with a rightful claim to the land upon which settlers have colonized. To respect and honour their sovereignty we will ensure a thorough consultation process on their terms, before engaging in rural Indigenous communities.
We strive to uphold the sovereignty of these nations by tailoring each workshop to each community’s (and school’s) needs with respectful community consultation ahead of time.
Responsibility to the Teachings of the Land
Where the Rivers Meet is developed and grounded in traditional knowledges and is committed to adhering to the natural laws of:
- living in good relations
- living in peace with one another
- sharing in friendship and responsibility
By following these natural laws, we will assist First Nations, Métis, and Inuit (Indigenous) communities by providing the tools they need to support cultural reconciliation and the active inclusion of Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ Indigenous youth in an intergenerational and community-wide healing context.
Throughout the development of the program we have consulted with multiple leaders in the Two-Spirit community in Edmonton as well as a Knowledge Keeper to make sure that we are being accountable to protocol, and go forward in a good way that is culturally responsible.
What are the impacts that you’ve seen already with your program?
One of the activities that we do with participants is encourage them to make a commitment to honour LGBTQIA+ and Two-Spirit Indigenous youth in the form of a written pledge. We often have them at tabling / awareness events that we are involved in as well as during the Consultation Teach-in / Workshop components of the workshop plans. We’ve collected some from parents & family physicians, LGBTQIA+ and Two-Spirit Indigenous youth themselves & their indigenous peers and others from supportive adult mentors in the community. So far we have collected over 200 pledges just over the summer from June to August at different events such as; National Aboriginal Day, Edmonton Pride Festival, and others! All of them are anonymous and we’ve collected a few to show you below:
How do people book Where The Rivers Meet?
It’s easy! The only catch, however, is that our workshops come in four parts: Initial Booking, the Consultation / Teach-in meeting, the Workshop session, and the Future Planning meeting. Each part is mandatory but we are flexible in working around the schedules of those schools, and organizations who are booking us.
The reason we do this, is to allow time for each component to sink in, and so that we can tailor the program to the specific needs of those who are booking us! We ask for at least a week between each component when booking so that we can do the proper research and find resources that best fit each session we do!
Online Booking forms:
Or if the forms aren’t accessible you can always shoot us an email at [email protected] and ask for Where the Rivers Meet and we will walk through the forms with you!
Who made that cool art?
The art that you see on our brochures are made by and for LGBTQIA+ and Two-Spirit Indigenous youth! In February we held a small art contest and the winners of that art contest get to have their art piece represented in our program, read their stories:
Aysha (she/her) 23
My name is Aysha, I’m 23, and I currently identify as pansexual. I am comfortable with the pronouns she and her! My mother is Cree, Dene, and Dutch (from Fort MacKay First Nation) and my dad is Métis.
‘Resilience’ is a piece I made to represent identity and disconnection/connection to the land. I used symbols like the eye, sage, billowing smoke, and landscape features to communicate some of my emotions. i think that my disconnection from the land, and pollution of land, can account for some of the loss of identity and spirituality that I experience. This is also an experience that many of the people I know can relate to. Art is really great coping mechanism for me because it is really expresses my feelings and is fulfilling.
Jenna (she/her) 14
My name is Jenna and I am Cree. I am 14 years of age as of last year, and the pronouns I prefer are she and her and I am an ally to the LGBTQ2S+ community. I thought of my sister as I was working on it and decided to base it off of her and my cousin who had been brought into the idea later on.
I made a rabbit to represent them as whenever I see a rabbit outside that same day I usually see them. I always found it quite odd but fun that it always happened. I also based it off of them because I remember they used to have issues with the genders they were attracted to and how they worked through them. They are also two of the five females who have impacted my life greatly. As my only female sister and only female cousin I’ve had proper contact with they obviously have a lot of influence over my life.
I put the sash in along with the dreamcatcher and feathers to represent the indigenous peoples; though the culture may have not had a big impact on me I am still proud to be Cree. Though there may not be much representation of LGBTQ in my drawing, it has had a big impact on me as I am surrounded by many who support and/or are apart of that community.