The Opaskwayak Cree Nation raised its own Pride flag for the first time on Monday and the chief is encouraging other First Nations to do the same.
“I challenge all Indigenous communities to implement the same approach in sending the message to their own people that LGBTQ2S+ are equal members of all our communities and should be gratefully acknowledged and respected as such,” said Onekanew [Chief] Christian Sinclair
“We need to move forward based on our terms and start decoupling from the racist policies and policies of discrimination from the colonists,” said Sinclair.
“We will move forward based on our teachings as Ininiwak [Cree people].”
On Monday afternoon, the northern Manitoba First Nation near The Pas kicked off its Pride Week events by raising a Pride flag with the OCN logo on it. OCN relied on its members to form a committee and help plan the first ever Pride Week.
One of those members is Alex Wilson. Wilson is a professor at the University of Saskatchewan and has been studying Indigenous sexuality and gender issues for the majority of her career.
“I’m very proud to be from OCN. I always have been proud but this is like the icing on the big rainbow cake,” said Wilson.
She said that it’s important for communities to understand how much of an impact residential schools had on Indigenous communities, and the homophobia that has been a result of it.
For Connie Merasty, Monday was a day to remember friends lost to HIV/AIDS, addictions and the streets.
“It was really emotional for me,” said Merasty, who identifies as a two-spirit, trans-woman.
“For a First Nation to raise a flag in their honour, it was really something else. That wasn’t my experience growing up, I had to leave the reserve.”
Merasty said she left OCN in the mid-1980s to escape the discrimination that she faced for wanting to be out in the community.
Merasty said she wants people to know how much of an impact today’s events will have on the community going forward and hopes that it encourages communities to learn how to talk about sexuality.
“This is a welcoming, a reconciliation of our community welcoming us into the circle,” said Merasty.
Sinclair said it was nice to see the community, including young people and elders, gather to hear from LGBTQ2S+ members.
He said that people within OCN, which has close to 6,200 members, have been discriminated against for their sexuality and that for some, the discrimination goes back decades.
“Hearing some of their history of trial and tribulation and their treatment and lack of respect based on a colonized view, we felt knowing where we are today as a community of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation that we honour them and we give them the recognition and respect that they rightfully deserve,” said Sinclair.
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