Knowledge 2eekerS — Two-Spirit Futures in Community-Based Research

As part of the Community-Centred Responses to 2SLGBTQ+ COVID-19 Mental Health Impacts project, funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, CBRC supported the development and delivery of several leadership programs with a focus on research capacity-building and mental health. Knowledge 2eekerS was one such initiative, creating a weekly meeting space for Two-Spirit and Indigenous folks with an interest in community-based research to gather, connect, and learn. Below, Lane Bonertz (Blackfoot, Piikani Nation) reflects on his experience leading the creation of this pilot program.

In 2017, I responded to an ad for the Investigaytors program, a research learning initiative developed by CBRC and hosted by the CRUISElab in Toronto. I was in the final year of my undergrad in sexuality studies, still uncertain of what would happen next. Every week, a group of 2SGBTQ+ men came together to explore research methodologies, socialize, and support the development of CBRC’s 2018 Sex Now survey. I couldn’t envision the impact that program would have on my future, providing me with the knowledge and relationships that have allowed me to continue working in sexual health research now. 

Two years working at CBRC and six years since my first Investigaytors meeting, I was asked to adapt the Investigaytors program for the Two-Spirit community. It was a full-circle moment; I believe in the power of these programs and recognize the opportunities that Investigaytors offered in the pursuit of my passions. Let the work begin.

We started by doing consultations with a number of Two-Spirit collectives from across Turtle Island and were quickly met with a similar response—“who asked for this?” 

It was a valid question—and they were right. Why should we settle for adapting an existing program that had not been built from the perspectives of Indigenous people? What opportunity did we have to create something entirely new? From there, Knowledge 2eekerS was conceptualized.

Two-Spirit is a gathering term—it can refer to sexual orientation, gender identity, neither, or both. It is the recognition of the multitude of identities, teachings, and ways of living that are true to us, our ancestors, and cultures as Indigenous people since time immemorial. Two-Spirit people held very important—often sacred—roles serving their communities. Sharing Two-Spirit perspectives and stories guided Knowledge 2eekerS in a way that encouraged participants to see research as an opportunity to assume and return to those roles that contributed to the collective benefit of their communities.

Indigenous people continue to be among the most overly-researched populations. Data is often compiled without proper consultation or communication of results with those impacted, and little to suggest improvement in health and other outcomes from the findings. Our identities are among the most scrutinized and quantified in research and academia, subject to colonial standards of what constitutes “being Indigenous,” while neglecting the kinship and connection to our peoples that governs our belonging.  Tokenization, Indigenous identity fraud and pretendianism, and the continued framing of Indigenous people within disparity models of data analysis and knowledge translation are among the many stressors that impact burgeoning Indigenous academics and researchers. Projects that covet numbers and objectivity separate us from the heart and motive that guides many of us into this field to do work that improves the lives of the communities that have supported us. Knowledge 2eekerS was a space to openly share and discuss our experiences, learn from one another, and improve self-esteem & well-being through knowledge exchange. 

Research in a Canadian context has a history of extraction, exploitation, and harm against Indigenous people—to do a program like Knowledge 2eekerS without confronting that reality would be an injustice to our presence in these spaces now. Addressing and acknowledging the tenuous relationship between Indigeneity and Western research, Knowledge 2eekerS creates an environment for participants to reflect on their role, interest, responsibility, and potential to enact meaningful change through their work. Equipped with the awareness and knowledge of these histories and dynamics, participants are empowered to question and advocate for their communities as they navigate these spaces.

Like a bow and arrow, it’s important that we pull into the past and use that tension as a way to propel forward to make sure those harms are not replicated again. Without the context and understanding of what has happened, we can only go so far in addressing the institutional barriers that limit us from doing research that respects and responds to the needs and teachings of our communities.

With these realities in mind, we’re guided by the question—what does it mean to be an Indigenous person in research?

While research fundamentals are a part of Knowledge 2eekerS, emphasis was first placed on what is in our arsenal to assert self-determination and data sovereignty, and challenge why we do research the way we do. Many academic institutions, research, and non-profit organizations endorse the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action. The introduction of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People has established a minimum standard for survival and well-being of Indigenous people as Canadian law. Indigenous researchers before us developed ethical frameworks such as the First Nations principles of Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession (OCAP). How can we ensure accountability within the systems we work in without knowing the documents meant to uphold that standard? Focusing on existing policies, laws, ethics, and Indigenous movements for change provide the backbone to explore our potential as researchers, advocates, and activists. We also looked at examples of Two-Spirit people past and present, their impact on community, and their contributions to the resurgence and representation of Two-Spirit, Indigiqueer, and Indigenous LGBTQIA+ people.

Many Indigenous people have found themselves in research later in life or as a result of lived experience, not following a traditional route of academia. The insight that comes with lived experience cannot be replicated by degrees and publications, and should be at the forefront of the research we undertake. It was a priority to ensure that Knowledge 2eekerS was open to interested folks of all ages. The participation of Elders and those with years of personal knowledge in the program was moving to witness. These individuals are a source of guidance and insight within Two-Spirit spaces; their belief that they too may learn from Knowledge 2eekerS and the younger members was a powerful demonstration of reciprocity.

By developing this knowledge base of what has happened, what’s in place, and how things are done in research, Knowledge 2eekerS are able to walk on firm ground as they move through these spaces. They are encouraged to critically engage in the work and dynamics before them and advocate for research to be done in a way that can positively impact our communities. Pulling from a variety of Indigenous research methodologies, those in the program can carry what resonates with them, their teachings, and beliefs. As the program host, it was important to incorporate Niitsitapi stories and language where I could, as a way of speaking from my own culture and understanding—something that I hope adapts and evolves to reflect the Indigeneity of those who may lead this program in the future.

In the span of a year, we developed a pilot curriculum from scratch and created a space for Two-Spirit people to gather around the common interest of research. Seeing one another each week online was a temporary retreat from anything else we may have had going on in our lives, professional or personal. There is still a lot of work to be done in improving and expanding Knowledge 2eekerS to its full potential, but I am looking ahead with optimism at how it can serve to build relationships, increase knowledge, and encourage the tenacity of Two-Spirit people in research.


Written by Lane Bonertz

Lane Bonertz (he/him) is the Two-Spirit Program Lead at the Community-Based Research Centre. He is queer, Blackfoot and a Piikani Nation member, and it is within these intersecting identities that he feels a sense of responsibility to contribute to care and research that is decolonial and affirming of identity and lived experience. Lane is currently developing and facilitating Knowledge 2eekerS, a Two-Spirit research learning initiative as part of the MH-COVID grant.


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Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC) promotes the health of people of diverse sexualities and genders through research and intervention development.
Knowledge 2eekerS — Two-Spirit Futures in Community-Based Research
Knowledge 2eekerS — Two-Spirit Futures in Community-Based Research
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