The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives changed its to The ArQuives, to more accurately reflect the diversity of our communities, the people and communities that are already represented in their collection.  The decision was based on six-months of reaching out to stakeholders and recognizing the growing number of underrepresented people; most notably trans, queer, bisexual, and 2-spirited folks. Research was conducted by way of online surveys, one-on-one interviews and scanning the broader spaces. The goal was a name that would carry on the legacy and advance the organization’s expanding role as a vital resource and repository.

“Changing the name gave us an opportunity to show LGBTQ2+ communities that we are actively trying to make our space and collections more inclusive,” stated Executive Director: Raegan Swanson. “Trans, bisexual, queer, and 2-spirit folks are no longer excluded from our name, which is often the first point of engagement with our organization,” she added.

The name change coincides with the launching of their new online database, another way they are becoming more accessible to the community at large. They are digitizing their collection, and the database will allow members of the public and academics from around the world to search through that collection. From the beginning The ArQuives was aware of the impact and value of digital technology.  As early as 1983, they secured a grant to purchase their first computer, and in 1991 they purchased the InMagicDatabase software to catalogue and describe different types of material.

What’s New in the ArQuives – The 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations

“2-Spirited” is an umbrella term coined in 1990 to refer to multiple Indigenous sexual, gender, and spiritual identities whose names were erased by colonialism. Before the arrival of European settlers, 2-Spirited people were greatly respected in their communities, often holding positions as healers and teachers, but colonization systemically erased and alienated these identities and people. Despite the ongoing effects of colonialism, there is a vibrant 2 Spirit community in Toronto and across Canada. In Toronto, the organization 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations, founded in 1989 (as the North American Indian Gay & Lesbian Society of Toronto, in 1992 the name was changed to the current one), is one such example of 2-Spirited community building and activism. They focus on HIV/AIDS education and support for 2-Spirited people in Toronto, based on Indigenous principles of health and wellness.

The 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations collection includes a variety of materials that illustrate histories of both the organization and its individual members. There are two boxes filled with photos of community members at gatherings, activities, and celebrations. The donation includes multiple obituaries and programs from memorial services for community members, documenting the significant impact that HIV/AIDS has on the community. Some other artifacts include Pride Toronto awards, a softball from the 2 Spirits team, and two framed 1990s Now Magazine covers featuring actor Billy Merasty and author Paula Gunn Allen. Additionally, there are physical copies of two key publications from the organization. The first is the “Two Spirit Women 2nd Edition,” a 2008 booklet created by 2-Spirited women that narrates their history, highlights current issues they face, like domestic violence and HIV/AIDS, and includes multiple personal anecdotes. The second is Nashine Ginwenimawaziwin, a phrase from the Ojibway language that loosely translates to “Constant Care”, an expansive 1998 manual written for caregivers providing palliative care for Aboriginal people living with HIV/AIDS. You can find both of these publications, in addition to other valuable resources, on the 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations website.

This collection is one crucial step to fill in the archival silences of missing Indigenous histories – too many of which are already lost. The physical records of 2-Spirited community members who have passed are an important addition to the ArQuives. These records broaden the context of the HIV/AIDS crisis beyond the dominant gay, white narrative by voicing an Indigenous perspective of the crisis, as well as broadening the history of Toronto HIV/AIDS community organizing and activism. HIV/AIDS has disproportionately affected Indigenous people, but their stories are routinely underrepresented in the historical records and current conversations surrounding HIV/AIDS. This collection both makes space for the significant loss within the 2-Spirited community, and for celebrating the incredible and ongoing HIV/AIDS-related resources and services that the 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations created to educate and support the 2-Spirited community. We cannot undo the damage colonialism inflicted upon 2-Spirited histories, but we can work to ensure that current 2-Spirited stories are preserved and prioritized.

The ArQuives is in the process of securing funding to hire a 2-Spirited community member to arrange and describe this collection. Although this generous donation has not yet been processed it is available to researchers upon request.

In coming weeks, they will also be announcing community events, including an open house. It is all part of a service to the community – all of it!

About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist based in Toronto with a focus on tourism, lifestyle, entertainment and community issues. He has written several travel articles and has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He’s willing to take on any assignments of interest, attend parties with free booze, listen to rants, and travel the world in search of the great unknown. He’s eager to discover the new, remember the past, and look into the future.