By Shane H. Camastro and Louis Esmé
Titiesg Wîcinímintôwak // Bluejays Dancing Together art collective is the name we use to organize our work on projects related to two-spirit resurgence, such as the Two-Spirit
Skillshare, Two-Spirit Bi-Monthly Social and Living Legacies, as well as artistic collaborations with other communities we may be a part of. Our name comes from the L’nu word for ‘bluejay’ and Nehiyaw term for ‘dancing together’, suggesting a collective creative process rooted in legacies of Indigenous resistance. We understand that Two-Spirit is a contemporary term specifically created by and for people Indigenous to Turtle Island, and is part of a growing resurgent movement to restore queer and trans leadership in our own nations, communities, as well as chosen and biological kin.
Founding members who helped shape the way we do things include Theola Ross, Krysta Williams, Pierre Beaulieu-Blais, Gesig Isaac, (name removed), Louis Esmé, Mikiki, Naty Tremblay, Joce Tremblay and Ange Loft. Most recently we’ve been grateful to keep working with some of these folks while bringing in teachings from Emma Allan, Shane H. Camastro, Kiley May, Jamie Whitecrow, Gein Wong, Erika Iserhoff, Maanii Oak, Zephyr McKenna, Willow Beyers, Melisse Watson, and Nicole Tanguay. Many community members have come to events, bringing their brilliance with them. Over the years we’ve worked with others whose legacies still shape our collective, creative process including Meg Bert, Ariel, Elwood Jimmy, Nathan Adler, Cherish
Blood, Fallon Simard, Vanessa Dion Fletcher and Gwen Benaway. Many, many people have given direction, provided groundwork, and found their own ways of supporting as mentors, aunties/uncles/auncles, grandparents and friends: Nora Melody Williams, Aiyyana Maracle, Jen Meunier, Jaret Maracle, Kahsenniyo Williams, Christa Couture, Ma-Nee Chacaby, Margaret Robinson, Seán Kinsella, Lisa Boivin, Ogimaa Mikana Project, Wanda Whitebird, Vera Wabegijig, Percy Lezard, Mashkiki:aki’ing with Sagatay, Billie Allan, Ruth Koleszar-Green, Melody McKiver, Amanda Thompson, Qwo-Li Driskill, Terri Coté, Daniel Heath Justice, Carmen Lane, and Audrey Huntley. We want to acknowledge the many settler friends who support without needing a biscuit, degree or platform in addition to the ways they’re already benefiting.
Titiesg // Bluejays come together to meet our communities’ needs such as making, viewing, and discussing Indigenous art, culture and theory. We are creative Indigenous people who are from many Nations and talk about what it means to be in a community art space without perpetuating pan-Indigenous stereotypes, while also resisting queer and trans settler nationalism. Some of us know how to describe our cultural responsibilities in our languages, or english, or both, or neither. All of this is okay because it’s okay to be in different stages of healing from colonization. Similar to how we don’t judge babies for not knowing how to start a fire, we support one another to pick up teachings at all life stages. Babies are awesome!
What’s most important is that we recognize one another as inherently worthy, powerful and loveable. Colonization has taught our people that transphobia, homophobia and misogyny are okay. This is literally harming us. We need two-spirit, trans and queer Indigenous leadership because we know how to do a lot of things including starting our own fires, collecting our own water, chopping our own wood. People who justify harms against us don’t see us as worthy of protecting/supporting, and they may even be people we love. This hurts. We are able to make art together so we already know that we can remake our bodies, lives, communities, families and Nations using our creative spirits. When we see one another as powerful, those hurtful attitudes and behaviours become intolerable and we learn to set boundaries. This heals our Nations. When we tell our stories, using our teachings to guide us, we become more powerful than those who criticize us for existing. This heals our communities and families. Two-Spirit people are here and we have always been present on Turtle Island. Together we remind ourselves about this and what it means to uphold our cultural responsibilities. This heals our selves.
Over the past year, Titiesg // Bluejays has been working on a project called Living Legacies:Two-Spirit Stories. We hosted two seasons of art workshops (funded by Community One and Toronto Arts Council) in plant knowledges, sound, performance, mask making, pottery and writing. Our stories are centred but we encourage Indigenous kin who aren’t two-spirit to join us. The work itself is as important as the places we re-inhabit, such as growing medicines along Gete-Onigaming at the Tollkeeper’s Cottage and Spadina Museum. At these colonial museums, we hosted workshops where our stories were spoken out loud and our bodies created new works. A special performance re-storied the typical “museum tour” through the actions of interplanetary Indigenous time travellers. Our songs were sung and our ceremonies shared, in this relic of genocide. We are pretty sure Spadina Museum staff and the white families who previously occupied this colonial building never intended for the Original People of this territory to return. We were mighty in our gentle, wise approach.
In October we’ll be sharing some of the results of Living Legacies with an exhibition at
Whippersnapper Gallery through their PEERS Projects initiative, further down Ishpaadina. During gallery times we’ll host small events for everyone to come by and see what we are up to. Beyond the next month, Titiesg // Bluejays will continue what we are already doing to hold creative space for our two-spirit selves that reflects who we are, where we are coming from and how we relate to the vibrant gathering place: Tkaronto, Gichi Kiiwenging, Toronto. This is what we’ve always done.
Louis Esme is a Mi’kmaq, Acadian and Irish ceramist, writer, illustrator, beader and community art facilitator. Their images have been on the covers of mâmawi-âcimowak, Transgender Studies Quarterly, and within the pages of kimiwan zine, Sovereign Erotics and most recently in Indigenous Feminist Cats. Order one at redearthstudios.ca
Shane Camastro is an anishinaabe 2spirit educator and mixed media artist from tkaronto, Dish with One Spoon territory. Shane is responsible for many communities and can be found caring for children, co-ordinating projects, and facilitating community workshops. They work at the intersections of art making, community building and education. Shane teaches and facilitates dialogues around space building, ‘anti-oppression’, and decolonization for over 10 years.