(Indigenous) Governance is Gay

“It seems innate that I am fucked up. I think I have the blood memory of my neurotic ancestors and their vices”

-Terese Mailhot


I intended to be an economist. Actually, I intended to be a business woman and being an economist was a compromise because I could not manage a high enough GPA to be admitted to the Alberta School of Business, but then somewhere along the lines, I read Marx and discovered that I was not personally capable of econometrics (likely due to gendered expectations of intelligence i.e. girls are bad at math). I was found and lost. I realized what I loved about economics was understanding how capitalism affects our relationships, learning why people interact with each other in certain ways. As Leanne Betasamosake Simpson writes, “the (other) problem with being twenty-two at university is that everyone gets mad and becomes a marxist and a buddhist.” And that is what happened to me, but I never got into Buddhism, despite dating a Buddhist later in my twenties (that is maybe another essay).

So how I began studying governance was itself gendered and the result of a personal failure. But I realized recently that my first teachings about collective governance and self-determination happened in hair salons, where I spent a lot of time watching my nehiyaw mom work when I was growing up.

A hair salon is a very political place—a place of queer governance, where mostly women and queers help clients have self-determination over their bodies.

So I come to governance and politics with diverse teachings. Boardrooms have nothing on the politics of a hair show or a queer dance party. It has only been through my participation in what people generally deem Governance and Policy—drafting policies with First Nations communities, working as a policy analyst, and studying Political Science—that I realized how much I continually learned in queer and feminist spaces about what governance actually is. I also learned how much this knowledge is discounted, how I have to act like my policy drafting and advocacy is not influenced by Queer Indigenous Ethics and nehiyaw feminism. As queer theorist Sara Ahmed has taught many of us, feminism helps us “make sense that something is wrong; to recognize a wrong is to realize that you are not in the wrong.”


It is a mission of mine to make Indigenous women and queerndns realize that, even though we have been shut out of what are generally deemed spaces of Indigenous Governance and Politics, governance is merely about how we relate to each other as collectivities. Our queer kin are doing this everyday in revolutionary ways, in ways from which those who are working in Indigenous Governance and Policy could learn. When my kin, Lindsay Nixon—who is a Cree-Métis-Saulteaux writer, curator, and academic—was recently interviewed by Anishinaabe/Métis poet and academic Gwen Benaway and graciously said that I had taught them “a lot about how governance doesn’t have to be limited to its nationalistic and masculinist version,” I felt very flattered and realized I had a lot to say about the topic.


Queer Indigenous writers and artists are not only making commentary on Indigenous governance and laws, but enacting it within webs of community through their art and actions. To say this is anything other than governance, which is simply processes and culture of relating to one another, is an erasure that centers western systems of governance that were implemented by settlers in efforts to assimilate us. A core component of this particular affront on our lifeways was to disconnect us from one another and radical systems of care.

Whether reserve, urban, or anything in between, queerndns have continued to enact this care as an ethic of wahkotowin but also a means of survival.

This is both an ethic and a cultural inheritance in which we recognize that we are undone by each other, for better or worse. The nehiyawewin word for orgasm means to unravel someone and it seems abundantly apparent to queer prairie kin that all intimacy means allowing someone the ability to unravel you. Intimacy is obviously not just about sex. The most intimate relationships I have had in my life have never been my sexual relationships. The bulk of love and support in my life can be found in the web of friendships I have maintained, in the web of relationships millennial ndns have built to survive institutions that previous generations fought  to make space in for us—only to realize the dream you have for us was not sustainable.

Education is the new buffalo?

We are all trying to pay off our visas

We are all hustling gigs when we just want to learn our language and have babies

This is not to say that queerndns are always doing governance well—we need to talk about violence that is erased in queer communities when we assume that perpetrators are always men or that toxic masculinity is something that only cis-het men perpetuate. And sometimes wahkotowin means an unhealthy relationship to surveillance through social media that perpetuates call-out culture in queerndn communities. Regardless, the ways in which we care for or don’t care for each other is governance.


Some of the concepts employed by Indigenous governance scholars and Indigenous leadership do not translate to queer Indigenous life.

 Cree scholar and writer, Billy-Ray Belcourt believes that “the concept of sovereignty, a charismatic concept in Indigenous studies, cannot be the ideational house for those of us who are queer and/or trans Indigenous and two-spirit.” Of course, there are concrete reasons why we think Indigenous Governance is for masculine, cisgender, and hetero people—the scholars of the field are overwhelmingly cis-het men. The Indian Act chiefs of our community are overwhelmingly cis-het men. Shut out of these ‘official’ governance processes, we have seen ‘what we do’ as something else. In her most recent book, Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson writes that “heteropatriarchy isn’t just about exclusion of certain Indigenous bodies, it is about the destruction of the intimate relationships that make up our nations, and the fundamental system of ethics based on values of individual sovereignty and self-determination.”


We ought not to forget that there are structural reasons why Indigenous women and queers are not in the negotiating rooms—why they are not the ones pissing off Trudeau for ‘lack of time management.’ Lately I feel like we are back in 1960s and 1970s. Obviously I did not live through that time, but as someone who has studied Treaty history, I see some eerie similarities.


Here we are sitting with the consequences of Canada electing Trudeau 2.0, whose government is in the process of drafting an Indigenous Rights, Recognition and Implementation Framework that we predict will deny the international status of our treaties and attempt to domesticate us into the Canadian nation-state. Through the 1969 ‘White Paper’ Trudeau 1.0 attempted to do away with Indians and “transfer ownership of the land to individual Indians and the management of Indian Affairs from the federal to the provincial governments.” Here we are with a strong Treaty stance coming from Indian Act chiefs who continue to enact or refuse to react to gendered violence or in our communities and territories.  To First Nations leadership claiming to ‘protect’ women and Trudeau 2.0 whose government has continued to enact violence on the bodies of Indigenous women, queer, trans, and Two-Spirit kin, “we say that these are nice sounding words, which are intended to mislead everybody.”


“I miss the North Saskatchewan who runs through

those trees that shoot up black and grand

from its cool hips”

-Marilyn Dumont


I go back to Treaty 6, to Edmonton, as often as I am able to—I fly home to familiar flat land, dry air, and pass brown faces on the street that are likely related to me. When I go home I make an effort to walk from the south side (the part of Edmonton where my parents live) of the High Level Bridge to the north side where the Alberta Legislature stands. I do this because this is where my band adhered to Treaty, on lands now occupied by lawn bowling. I am reminded that the casual pastimes of settlers are more important than commemoration of a living agreement between creation, nehiyawak and nakoda, and settlers.


Not far from this site is the rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood where my kokum lived in a boarding house after fleeing violence on our reserve. This neighbourhood is increasingly home to hotels and restaurants for visitors to Rogers Place. I am reminded that the casual pastimes of settlers are more important than the histories of Indigenous women and queer survivance (governance) in prairie cities. Even so, we continue to care for each other in ways that should be considered governancewhether it is at negotiation tables or queer dance parties. Indigenous governance is pretty gay.


“So when we love each other, it is potent enough to heal the trauma and chase away the violence. So when we love it is wider than the prairies. So when we love, the bellies of our ancestors are filled with laughter and good food. When we love each other, pipelines shut down and borders open and logging machines jam.”

-Erica Violet Lee