A Gift Guide I wrote for the All Lit Up blog:

When I was asked to write this gift guide, I was presented with a vast selection of titles to choose from. Since I knew there was a dearth of literary talent in the Indigenous writerly world, I decided to highlight the work of Indigenous writers, some of whom were already on my to-read list, and a couple who were new to me that I stumbled across on the ALU website.

Compiling this list of titles was an agonizing process, but I managed to narrow it down to only 6 books (no mean feat)! With difficult decisions had to be made, I chose to focus on those dazzling, dark, and complex stories that most caught my eye, stories that I was eager to read anyway—writing this guide gave me an excuse to buy some early-holiday gifts to myself, and I strongly recommend that you do the same (they also make great gifts for other people too).

In no particular order, here are my recommendations:



Islands of Decolonial Love
Leanne Simpson (ARP Books)

A jewel-like collection of inter-connected stories and songs, each chapter is like an island, and each one revolves around themes of love; romantic, moody, problematic, and strange. Formed around kernels of Anishinaabe words, these stories grow into out-of-control bonfires that threaten to burn down entire islands and body-thieves stealing from coffins (for the most virtuous of reasons) in “jiimaanag”, to a love-story of Sabe the sasquatch in “she told him 10,000 years of everything,” and a song in staccato phrases (which I’ve had the good fortune to hear performed live) that tells the story of burial mounds and ancestor-skeletons under orange tarps from Canadian Tire, unearthed to make way for cottages on the shores of Rice Lake in “jiibay or aandizooke.” These stories are compelling, they ring of truth, the struggle for existence, and the struggle to love, decolonial.

Favourite Line: “if you don’t have 7up you can mix vodka with beer” (p.96)



A Gentle Habit
Cherie Dimaline (Kegedonce Press)

This book is a stunning collection of six stories with thoroughly enjoyable prose, that range from: the heart-wrenching, realistic cruelty and social stratification of the playground found in “The Bead Fairy,” to the Bukowski-worthy junk-sick filing clerk who has acquired a newfound, and perplexing word-eating fixation in “Chasing the Ants,” to the pathetic suburban father obsessed with discovering the flower thief who has uprooted his beloved garden in “36 Holes,” to the sinister and Gaiman-esque girl born with missing bones in “The Memory of Bones,” to the intricately painful navigation of adolescent lust and love in “all the small things that collect at the bottom of the day,” to an inverted re-imagining of the classic haunted-house story, in which a house haunts the succeeding generations of one family in “Heave.” This is a great read!

Favourite line: “There is a moment that lies in the softest part of a person’s gut, rubbing its dirty fingers along entrails, coaxing out the kind of pain that sings… an indeterminable aria that sits in the heart” (p.153)



Rose’s Run
Dawn Dumont (Thistledown Press)

You really really won’t be disappointed if you pick up this book, Rose is such an endearing, well-realized and sympathetic character, who has occasional and easy-to-identify-with low self-esteem, but she is also brave and just plain likable. This is the story of 35-year-old mother of two Rose Okanese, who unwittingly decides to run a marathon after she has talked herself into a corner. The race forms the structure for the story, her training sessions, her daily trials and tribulations, aches and pains, the raising of her two daughters, a new love interest, the mystery of a ghost, and suspense about how the race will play out draws you along through the narrative. Set on the Pesakestew Reserve in “middle of nowhere-fuck Saskatchewan” Dumont manages to keep the narrative fast-paced, and the tone light-hearted and humorous even amidst moments of the most painful dramatic tension. You can’t help but worry about, and cheer for Rose Okanese. This novel is a joy to read. Seriously, go buy it!

Favourite line: “[her friend’s] integrity had forced her to do many things in the past: paying parking tickets, apologizing for running over someone’s dog, and then apologizing for trying to pass off a similar-looking dog as the dead one.” (p.107-108)



Witness, I Am
Gregory Scofield (Nightwood Editions)

A slim volume with Cree words interspersed throughout, these poems are great to read aloud just to hear the sound of the language, the English translations appearing right-justified in italics; these poems are elegies, memorials, honour songs, and dedications that explore themes of identity, love, and loss. The longest poem in the collection, “Muskrat Woman,” is a re-imagining of the Flood story, with biblical references interspersed throughout, references to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, the highway of tears, and Robert Picton’s farm, all told from the point of view of Muskrat Woman, who gathers the fist-full of dirt after the Flood to re-make the land and create Turtle Island. It also includes the chilling audio transcript of Amber Tuccaro and her presumed murderer released by the RCMP.

Favourite line: “Fuck you!/ Get your own dirt” (p.9)



charlie  Muskrat
Harold Johnson (Thistledown Press)

Set in Weyakwin Saskatchewan, the story begins in the distinctive voice of Charlie Muskrat who is going winter moose hunting from his car window, because it is cold out, and “Thelma” is coming to visit, and the moose he “shot last fall was not going to be enough to feed that woman.” The humour is wry, tongue-in-cheek, ripe with mis-hearings and miscommunications in the same vein as Thomas King, in a genre of mythic-realism. Along the way, Charlie picks up various hitch-hikers, and incarnations of the culture-hero Wesakicak, who goes up to Mount Olympus to visit the Greek Gods in Greek Heaven, since Charlie’s “father was Greek and his mother was Cree,” and he is trying to figure out where Charlie belongs in the afterlife. The author also appears as a character with a cameo appearance, as one of the hitch-hikers Charlie picks up on his journey, in an interesting fourth wall break: “Harold Johnson, what the hell are you doing out here?”

Favourite Line: “we are written here, Gutenberged” (p26 ‘Gutenberg’ used as a verb!)



BONUS: Passage
Gwen Benaway (Kegedonce Press)

A fiercely intelligent poet and writer, I’ve also had the good fortune to hear Gwen read from this new collection of poetry, which hasn’t yet been released (but lucky for you, it will be out very soon!) She writes with a level of truth and integrity that’s so piercing, you can’t help but to feel pained at the level of honesty and bravery it must take to share these stories. This one is definitely on my to-read-list.

See the original article on the All Lit Up Blog here: https://alllitup.ca/Blog/2016/Gift-Guide-Week-Nathan-Niigan-Noodin-Adler

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Call For Submissions ~ Bawajigan: Stories of Power

Bawajigan: Stories of Power

Dreams (Bawajigan) have always played a powerful role in Indigenous cultures across Turtle Island: they have changed the course of history, and served as warning, insight, guidance, solace, or hope. In Bawajigan (Anishinaabemowin for Dream) – and the 17th volume in the Exile Book of Anthology Series – we are gathering fictional stories about what it means to dream and be Indigenous, how dreams weave their way through our realities, how they impact history, lived experience, and the stories we tell each other and the world. These can be lucid daydreams, waking trances, hallucinations, reveries, reoccurring nightmares, revenge-fantasies, fever-induced delirium, coma, sleep-paralysis visitations, sleep-walking disorders or sleep deprivation, communication with non-human entities, messages from beyond the grave, cybernetic ghosts, vision-quests, ceremony, or ghost-dancing hopes for the future, all while you just try to make it through the week. We want to hear your stories about the strength and power of dreams!

Are dreams merely wish fulfillment? Can they offer healing, guidance or insight through psycho-analysis? What do dreams reveal or conceal? Are they another level of reality? Do computers, AI entities, or androids dream? Are we living inside of a holographic universe? What do animals or monsters or ghosts or devils dream about? What if two people had the same dream? What if there were predators that stalked our dreams? What if designer-dreams became just another product to sell? Do dream-worlds exist? Are dreams multi-dimensional or cross-dimensional realities? Who is that dream-man or dream-woman? What if a dream came true? What if they always came true? Do places incite specific types of dreaming? Are we our ancestors’ wildest dream come true?

What are we looking for?

Stories must be by Indigenous writers – which means anyone who identifies as First Nation, Inuit, Metis, Status and Non-Status (including those of mixed heritage/ancestry). We’d also love to consider Indigenous writers who are not Canadian, but keep in mind that at least 90% of the authors must be Canadian, or who continue to pay taxes in Canada while living abroad.

We also encourage submissions from New-generation (18-30 years of age) and Two Spirit / LGBTQIAP folk.

Submissions including Indigenous languages are also welcome, although please include English translations.

The stories can be influenced by cultural understanding, traditional knowledge, set in modern day/historical/or futuristic settings, but filtered through a fictional lens. Stories can be in any genre, including but not limited to magic realism, alternative history, literary fiction, science-fiction, fantasy, horror, romantic comedy, erotica, urban-fantasy, mystery, and graphic-forms (comics and/or illustrations; we can even consider including a link to an online animation) — they can also be based on mythical creatures, supernatural entities, or technologies that do not exist in real life, so long as the story is in some way about drawing strength from the power of dreams.

Tropes to Avoid: Think of The Wizard of Oz “it was all a dream” ending, and unless you think your story is particularly awesome, try to steer clear of this sort of ending, it can come across as a trick played on the reader at their expense.

Submission Details: 

Original unpublished work up to 5,000 words, fictional stories only. No novel excerpts, poetry or essays. If you have something that almost-but-not-quite fits the criteria as it is laid out here, but it’s burning a hole in your pocket and you are certain of its awesomeness, please do submit it anyway. Legible 12-point font. Please list your name, contact info, and word count on the first page.   

Call open from: Dec. 2nd – March 15th

Payment: .05/word CDN

Editors: Nathan Niigan Noodin Adler

& Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith

Rights: non-exclusive English World, no re-prints for one year.

Expected Publication Date: November 2017

Submit via submittable: https://exilepublishing.submittable.com/submit/72583/bawajigan-stories-of-power-call-for-submissions

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CBC Books Interview about my novel, Wrist

I did a telephone interview with CBC books, and they wrote up a nice article based on the transcribed interview.

You can read the original here: http://www.cbc.ca/books/2016/07/nathan-adler-hiwi.html

Or see copy & paste version below:


Nathan Niigan Noodin Adler on writing an Indigenous horror story

Nathan Niigan Noodin Adler’s debut novel, Wrist, is not for the faint of heart. The Indigenous monster story opens with a vicious attack by a mythological creature called Wiindigo, in which a man is literally torn limb from limb. The noted horror fan said he was inspired by the works of writers like Anne Rice and Tim Powers, who write about monsters from European folklore. Adler turned to his Indigenous roots to find his monster, the Wiindigo.

In his own words, Adler describes the making of Wrist, including the two paintings that helped inspire it.


Visual aids
There was a painting that Norval Morrisseau did of the Wiindigo. I think it’s a spoof on another painting – Saturn Devouring His Son by Francisco Goya – but instead of Saturn, it’s the Wiindigo monster and he’s grabbing beavers and swallowing them whole. He’s this giant cannibal monster. I remember seeing that painting and being fascinated by it. I asked my mom about it and she told me stories about that monster in particular.

When I started to write, I wanted to have illustrations in it so I have tons of drawings and illustrations that I did for the novel. We didn’t end up including them because we thought it might distract from the text, but I have all these drawings of the main characters. It helped me realize the world a bit more.

adler-paintings.pngNorval Morrisseau’s painting of the Wiindigo and Francisco Goya’s painting of Saturn Devouring His Son were major influences in this book. (Courtesy of Nathan Adler)
Historical accuracy

I read myths and stories and books about mythology. I wanted the family to be securely located in Anishinaabe worldview and cosmology. I did a lot of research into the mythology they would known about and wanted them to be really embedded in that world. Then I tried to develop my own rules about the supernatural world they live in. There’s a guy out west, Nathan Carlson, he does a lot of research into Wiindigo psychosis, which is an actual historic disorder people would be diagnosed with. These people thought they were Wiindigos and would want to kill and eat people. Actual people were put on trial for being Wiindigo. Nathan Carlson writes about that from an Indigenous academic perspective. He has a personal connection to it with one of his ancestors. He was a really great resource for informing the story in terms of historical accuracy.

adler-illustrations-wrist.pngAdler drew illustrations that were originally meant to accompany the text. They weren’t included in the book, but helped him visualize the world he created in greater detail. (Courtesy of Nathan Adler)
Unexpected characters

One thing that surprised me was that one of the characters came out of nowhere. She took over the narrative a little bit and demanded that her story get told. I was like, “I don’t know where this character came from!” She just appeared and became a big part of the story. I think it’s pretty cool when that happens.



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All Lit Up, Write-up about my Novel: Wrist

All Lit up did a nice write-up on my novel Wrist, you can read about it on the All Lit Up Blog here:


Or see copy & paste below:

First Fiction Fridays: Wrist

June 24, 2016

Sneak-peek alert!  Wrist, Nathan Adler’s debut novel releasing in July from Kegedonce Press, is a “fusion of horror genre, urban fantasy and Indigenous storytelling methods.” Sounds amazing, right? Well, we can sweeten the deal a little further: sign up for a release notification for Wrist and receive a special promo code to get 10% off the book Lee Maracle calls “captivating from beginning to end.”

See more details below





Wrist (Kegedonce Press, 2016)


Nathan Adler is a writer and an artist who works in many different mediums. Nathan won the Canadian Aboriginal Writing Challenge in 2010, and is currently working on a second novel and collection of short stories. He is a member of Lac Des Mille Lacs First Nation. You can read his blog here.

Why you need to read this now:

Wrist is unlike anything you’ve ever read. With a fusion of horror genre, urban fantasy and Indigenous storytelling methods, Adler crafts a tale that lives somewhere between The Addams Family and paintings of Norval Morrisseau. As with gestalt theory, the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and with Wrist, Adler has crafted something wholly unique and captivating.

Wrist follows the story of dinosaur hunters who, in 1872, become embroiled in a battle over the discovery of fossils in Northern Ontario as their excavation crews are driven mad by a bizarre and terrifying illness. Over a hundred years later, Church and his family show signs of the same monstrous affliction. As he begins to unravel his family’s dark history, Church must race to protect the secrets buried deep in bones and blood.

Written from the monster’s perspective, readers get a taste of the insatiable hunger that drives Wiindigo mad, while sharing a human-ness to which we can all relate. Fans of traditional horror genre books – think Frankenstein and Dracula – will enjoy the descriptions of old-world medicine and science while exploring the intricate lives of the Indigenous monsters described by Adler.

While a work of fiction, readers may feel a sense of familiarity in the imagery crafted by Adler. Wrist is set in the fictional communities of Sterling and Ghost Lake Reserve – both of which are influenced by Ontario geography, in particular Lac Des Mille Lacs First Nation and Neyaashiinigmiing (Cape Croker).

Suspenseful, dark and deliciously horrifying at times, there are also gentler threads of family connection, human struggle and love entwined throughout the story. Readers will also notice the refreshingly LGBTQ2-positive storyline.

What other people are saying:

“I love how Adler solicits the assistance of the natural world in weaving his magical tale – fantastic, captivating from beginning to end.” – Lee Maracle, author of Celia’s Song

“Nathan Adler writes exceptionally well. His words weave together and tell a haunting story that leaves you wanting more.” Christine Smith (McFarlane) – Freelance Journalist

“Nathan Adler blends poetic imagery and Anishinaabe story to create something totally new and completely beautiful.” – Cherie Dimaline, author of A Gentle Habit, The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy, and Red Rooms

* * *

Thanks so much to Allison at Kegedonce Press for sharing Wrist with us! We can’t wait until it comes out: remember, sign up here to receive a nudge and promo code when the book releases. For more great debut fiction, click here.


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Been trying my hand at some NON-fiction, and haven’t updated the blog recently. Here is an article I wrote for the Shameless Magazine Blog.

You can read the original version here: http://shamelessmag.com/blog/entry/nezaatiikaang-place-of-the-poplars-connection-and-disconnection-to-land



July 8th, 2016     by Nathan Adler     0 Comments

Illustration: Shelby McLeod

Nezaatiikaang Place of the Poplars Connection and Disconnection to Land

By: Nathan Adler

I hadn’t stepped foot onto our Reserve since I was a kid. The metal hull of the motorboat hit land and I stepped out. I looked down, there was a white eagle feather, the length of my forearm.


Are you sure it’s an eagle feather? Maybe it’s goose?

No, eagle feather. They reassure me.

Are they pulling my leg?

Nope. Eagle feather.

Grit and sand sticking to it, I rinse the feather in the lake, and straighten the wrinkled barbs of the vane flaring out from the hollow rachis. One of my earliest memories, is being in a hammock slung between two trees, me and my twin brother in our little hammocks made of blankets and rope, our Great Aunt keeping an eye on us, Freda, or Francis; trees creaking, wind blowing through flickering poplar leaves, sunlight on closed eye-lids, drifting wood-smoke from a campfire.

We’d gone out by boat, because the Access Road wasn’t built yet, with our cousins Ernie, and Lawrence, and two of Ernie’s boys who had never once stepped foot on-Reserve. My brother pulls out his video camera to document the event.

How does it feel? The universal question of a journalist.

It feels good I guess.

Not everyone had opportunity to access the place where parents, grandparent, great-grandparents, and ancestors lived. A century of colonization, displacement, dam-building, flooding, theft of children. Stuff I won’t get into now. Stuff that has been well documented elsewhere. Forces which, through callousness, or worse, willful intent, had all but separated People from their lands, both physically, and spiritually, severing connections. The annual Pow-wow isn’t called “Return to our Lands” for nothing.

I’m grateful our mom insisted we spend time on the Lake, giving us a relationship to the place, one, two, and sometimes three-times removed from the previous generations who lived here and called it home. She grew up in Sevanne, our Grandmother was born on Reserve, Grandfather’s Cabin, long-since fallen in. From swaying motor-boat, they point to places where they used to live. While we only visit. We are lucky to have the chance.

The Cabin which once stood in this spot, is a one-story building, overlooking the Lake, with a wooden dock. Our mom packed us 5 kids into a van for the 24hour drive, to the Sevanne boat launch, then by water out to the Cabin. No electricity. No running water. Bend in the lake where there is a sandy shoreline for a Lac-Des-Mille-Lacs-style bath, scrubbing and dunking in ochre water, rinsing off shampoo and lathered suds, bar of soap floating away with the waves. Then back through the reeds. Trying to avoid leeches. Too little to play poker with matchsticks, us twins had to go to bed, while our older siblings get to stay up playing cards with Ron. Swatting flies with a fly-swatter. Having to go out to use the out-house at night, filled with cobwebs and spiders. Rocks traded like baseball cards with cousin Hector. The arrowheads Shawn found. The moose skull Duncan brought back with us in the van for his collection of animal skulls—most of the flesh decomposed, only a few flecks still clinging to the white bone.

The trailer on Seine River Reserve 22a2, a second parcel of land, had for a while functioned as Band Office. On Mosher lake, between Firesteel and Seine. Rapids, and waterfalls. The bundle of fish Shawn caught. The taste of wild blueberries exploding between teeth. Playing X’s and O’s with sticks in the dirt road with our cousin Crystal.

Did we like New Kids On the Block?

No. They weren’t cool anymore.

Good, she nods sagely in approval.

There is a new Access Road now. Better to make the journey in a Truck or S.U.V. with four-wheel Drive. A new Round-house and Community Centre overlook the Lake where the old Cabin used to stand. A Flood Claim negotiation, decisions to make. To take the deal with Feds and Province? What to do with the money. Will it heal old wounds? Not even close. Better than nothing. Hopefully the next generation will have a connection to the land. Nezaatiikaang, Place of the Poplars.

Miisa’a minik

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Interview for my short story “The Ghost Rattle” in the “Playground of Lost Toys” Anthology. You can read it on Colleen Anderson’s blog here: https://colleenanderson.wordpress.com/tag/nathan-adler/ (Or scroll down to read it on here)

Playground of Lost Toys Interviews

Lost ToysPlayground of Lost Toys hit the stores in December and is available on Amazonand through Exile Writers. The holidays and being in no WiFi land put another gap in the posting of these interviews so without further ado, here is Nathan Adler and Joe Davies. Nathan, who wrote “The Ghost Rattle,” gives us a a tale about consequences of mistaking something for a toy.
1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys.

 I’d finished a novel, and wasn’t ready to commit to another large project, so I started writing short stories. The Ghost Rattle fit the theme, so I submitted.

2. Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood?

It was important that the teenagers in the story weren’t the good or bad guys, just the run of the mill fuck-ups a lot of us probably were when they were younger.

3. What theme or idea were you exploring in your story.

ghost stories, nostalgia, fantasy, horror, First Nations, Indian

Nathan Adler brings us “The Ghost Rattle,” a different take about Indian burial grounds.

I started out with the idea of having three objects, and three characters, and three ghosts, and how the objects which had once belonged to the dead connected them all together. It was important that the ghosts weren’t purely malevolent, they needed to be as well-realized as the living characters. Tyler’s story-arc is part of a larger narrative that follows the arc of his friends, Dare Theremin and Clay Cutter, and the associated objects and hauntings.

I wanted to tackle the trope of the Indian Burial Ground, which is a pretty common theme in horror movies as the basis for a bunch of scary shit happening, but it’s usually a back-drop without much depth: “Oh yeah, also, this pet cemetery/hotel/house was built on an IBG,” and then never mentioned again. I also had real world events like the Oka Crisis swimming around in my head, which revolved around the construction of a Golf Course on an IBG, and also the flooding of my reserve, Lac Des Mille Lacs First Nation, which unearthed coffins and damaged traditional burial sites.

I think part of mainstream horror narratives is the discomfort settlers have with the reality that this is Indian land, that it’s basically all stolen, and an IBG is this blank canvass for stories of white guilt and fear. So I didn’t want to fall into any of those ways of approaching a story about an IBG with mindlessly angry ghosts. Instead the ghosts have their own histories, and react in very different and unexpected ways.

4.Tells us anything else to do with your story or the theme of the anthology.

The setting of Ghost Lake is part of a larger fictional universe. The story also operates as something of a back-story for the character of Dibikazwinan, as she has living descendants who appear in other stories, and she also has a cameo appearance in a novel I wrote called Wrist, as a minor (living) character in 1872.

5. What other projects do you have in the works, pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year?

My novel called Wrist is slated to come out in the Spring of 2016 through Kegedonce Press, Available for pre-order here: http://kegedonce.com/bookstore/item/73-wrist.html.

I have some of my published writing on my blog here: https://nathanadlerblog.wordpress.com

And I’ll probably be having a Book Launch for Wrist in Toronto sometime in the summer, and doing some readings. And I’ve been working on a collection of inter-related short stories, as well as another novel that follows after Wrist.

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Dindiisah, Making In-Roads, and Never Say Goodbye: Published in Kimiwan zine, Issue #2, Spring 2013.


Are they Starlings or Swallows?  I don’t know.  We’ll just call them by their
Nishnaabe name, Dindiisah.  –Din-Dee-Saawh–
Their wings shaped like A fighter jet’s,
All collar bone, protruding shoulders, elbows,
feather-tips slicing through the air two inches above the water.
They never crash and burn, thrashing mangled into the water
with one misplaced wing.
One wing-tip dipped into the water like a rudder,
it curves sharply to the right like a swimmer pushing off a wall for traction,
bouncing off the back-boards slam-dunk basketball-player . . . Stop-on-a-dime.
And change direction –Mid-flight–
No turning, just a.  Full.  Stop.  –Hovering–
and then flowing back the way they came.  –Time traveling–
Dipping diving dancing.
Zipping zagging swerving.
Up-and-down like a roller-coaster, dippy road, adventure seeker.
Almost crashing into each other head-on, but still managing to
turn at the last possible moment.  Exhilarating speed.  Danger.
Singing their chirping song.
Another bird in the distance, like a see-saw,
See-saw goes the sound
Like a squeaky swing set,
Rusty without oil
Like playful children
Reveling in the day.
They know how,
to enjoy their moments.


(Making In-roads, Acrylic, LCBO brown-bag paper, cigarette foil, reflective plastic & match-sticks on Canvas)



Never Say Goodbye

“I won’t say good-bye,” my grandmother says,

“I’ll say: ‘See you later.’”

because in Ojibway, there is no word for good-bye

good-bye is an un-lucky word, too deadly, too final

instead you say, “See you later,” not “good-bye.”

see you later




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Two Spirit, originally published as “Reclaiming Two-Spirit” in Issue 25, Winter 2013 of Shameless magazine (on display until April 2014), the Love & relationships issue


Two Spirit

What does two-spirit mean?

There is a lot of confusion around the term two-spirit.  I’ve been told that the words ‘niizh mnidoowag’ originally came to an Elder in a dream.  And later these words were selected as an umbrella category in during the third annual Indigenous Gay and Lesbian conference in Winnipeg in 1990, to represent the entire spectrum of sex and gender identities across many different Indigenous cultures.

Culture is fluid, it changes over time, and often the courtesy of flux and change is not extended to indigenous cultures because they are often type-casted in romanticized notions of the past that erase or ignore today’s realities.  Some have questioned the validity of the term two-spirit because it is not ‘traditional’, or it is ‘just made up’ but one must remember that all culture is just ‘made up,’ and the term ‘gay’ itself is not that old.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the oldest written use of the word ‘gay’ in its modern sense is 1922, and it probably dates back to the turn of the century.  It makes sense for Indigenous people to choose their own words to describe their own identities, rather than simply relying on Euro-centric terms when it comes to sex and gender, especially given the history of colonialism, colonization, and sex and gender based violence.  Traditional indigenous understandings of sex and gender and spirituality have been eroded by colonization and indoctrination into western culture and non-indigenous ways of thinking that include sexism and homophobia.

Other questions that often crop up surrounding the term two-spirit are the following: “Is it even any different than being gay?” and, “Is it even necessary?” And the short answer to both questions is ‘yes!” because two-spirit is an umbrella category.  Many different people from vastly different cultures identify as two-spirit.  They may be Anishinaabe or Cree or Dene, they may be women or men, they may be gay or straight, they may be trans, they might occupy traditional gender roles that have no counter-part in Western culture (agokwe, winkte, nadleehe etc.), or they might simply be uncomfortable adopting the terms and cultural categories of the colonizer and the baggage that comes with Western conceptions of sex and gender.

There is a distinction I would like to make between the terms two-spirit and agokwe.  They are not necessarily the same thing.  The term agokwe is an Anishinaabe gender-identity category that has no counterpart in Western conceptions of sex and gender.  According to one translation of the word agokwe: ‘egwa’ means ‘and’, and ‘kwe’ means ‘girl’, so a literal interpretation of the word is ‘and-woman’.  What this means, is literally, a man who is also a woman, someone who literally has two spirits (and for this reason the term two-spirit is particularly appropriate for agokwe people).

An example of this could be historical figure of Yellow Head.  They are described as being agokwe, and performing the gender roles of both genders, (much different from much of the ‘trans’ theory, which is largely concerned with transforming/becoming another sex or gender.  Agokwe does not have the same concept of transformation, or change, rather it has a sense of already being.

When one takes into consideration the vast array of Indigenous history and culture on Turtle Island, and the different cultural understandings of, and roles, for people across an entire spectrum of sex, gender, spirit, and prosperity, one begins to understand the necessity for a specifically Indigenous term.

Two-spirit people of all stripes were historically considered lucky, advantageous, and beneficial members of society, and respected specifically because of their perceived advantages.  In many cases, two-spirit peoples were able to take up the work of both men and women, a clear economic advantage, or they were thought to have special skills and abilities.

There are many many, words in Indigenous languages to identify all sorts of different types of people, and ‘two-spirit’ is the term many indigenous people use today to identify themselves, as apposed to the terms created by western culture, or terms like ‘berdache’ chosen by anthropologists.  Two-spirit is a great term to reclaim traditional understandings of sex, gender, and spirit that are different from colonial understandings, and to return two-spirit people to their traditional places of respect within our communities.

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#oldpeopleproblems#dimentia#ojibwaygranny, and Wiisagendam originally published in Kimiwan Zine, issue #4, 2013



“Did you see my canoe, when you came in?”

my grandma asks

–we don’t live near water–

“You haven’t lived on the Sevanne river

in a long time grandma!”


“Did you catch any fish today?”

my grandma asks.

“I wasn’t fishing today grandma!

I was at work!”

Fishing and work, are not the same thing.

We are not living on Lac Des Mille Lacs here anymore.


My grandma says

she went to visit her father

–this morning–


he was still in bed,

so she made coffee!

Fred Peters died

in 1967.




My eighty-six-year-old-grandmother fell

and broke her wrist, (and pending the results of a Cat-Scan

she might have fractured a heel as well

–she’s got to keep that foot elevated!)

she needed a cane to walk before

which isn’t possible now that her wrist is broken

so she’s in a wheelchair–

and I learned a new Ojibway word today:

Wiisagendam.  It hurts.


*It turned out that my grandma’s heel was broken, as well as her wrist.  (and thankfully both injuries have since healed well)



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The Ten Plagues of Colonialism: written by Nathan an Howard Adler, originally written for the Passover Edition of Shtetl Magazine and in honour of the IdleNoMore movement

Original version in Shtetl Magazine: http://shtetlmontreal.com/2013/03/27/aboriginal-rewrite-of-the-10-plagues/

The Ten Plagues of Colonialism in Canada

1. A Plague of Blood: Water

Water is said to be the lifeblood and the veins of mother earth, and for over a hundred years, industry has been polluting the waterways. Uranium mining under the River Basin of Elliot Lake has left the water and the sediment of the serpent River contaminated. The Anishinaabe are left with the consequences of environmental damage long after the resources have been extracted, attached to the land by treaties, history, and tradition. This template of resource extraction, and pollution has been repeated countless times across Canada, and spanning a number of industries. 150 First Nations Communities live downstream from paper mills and mines. Since 2003 Josephine Mandaamin, an Ojibway grandmother has been walking around the great lakes in a ceremony to purify and to raise awareness around water issues.

2. A Plague of Frogs: Reserve System

The Reserve system was created to ‘civilize’ Indigenous Peoples by introducing them to agriculture and a sedentary way of life based on private property. Many reserves were unsuitable for farming, and those that did farm were prevented from selling their produce or livestock, in order to limit competition for colonial settlers. The underlying motive for the creation of reserves was to free up vast tracts of land for settlement, and extinguish title to the land, not to “share the land” as per agreements laid out in the Treaties.

3. A Plague of Gnats: Legislation

The Indian Act was enacted in 1876 to control every aspect of Indian life, including prohibiting Indians from being intoxicated off reserve, restricting the right to vote in federal elections until 1960, or serve in the army, or attend post-secondary school, or even leave the reserve for extended periods of time. The Indian Act determines who is and who is not an “Indian” within the meaning of the Indian Act. It restricted Indian status in many discriminatory ways (such as marrying out, or being born out of wedlock among others), and cuts off status after the third generation (and all attendant rights and benefits). Any given population, subject to the same rigorous standards of inclusion and exclusion, would become legally extinct within a few generations. The act determines how Indian reserves are governed by Band Councils, and displaces Indigenous sovereignty and traditional forms of governance. The slew of recent legislation, including the recent omnibus budget Bill C-45 (a realization of The 1969 white paper), makes changes to the Indian Act that make it easier to lease reserved lands, and surrender band territory.

4. A Plague of Wild Animals: Drugs/Alcohol

Addiction to drugs and alcohol remains an issue for many Indigenous peoples. Historically alcohol and drugs were not a huge part of most Indigenous cultures, and where they did exist, these substances were strictly controlled, usually for ceremonial or religious purposes. Government policy to assimilate Indians and obliterate Indian cultures has left many Indigenous communities in poverty, and in a state of shock, attempting to adapt to a rapidly changing way of life, and confronting a constant battle against further assimilation, which has created a situation ripe for the spread of alcoholism and drug abuse.

5. Pestilence: Stereotypes

The way Indigenous peoples have been portrayed, and continue to be portrayed, in various stereotypical, racist, and sexist ways, justifies the continued subjugation and destruction of Indigenous peoples and their culture, as both natural and inevitable, and even justified. The myth of the vanishing Indian relegates Indigenous peoples to a distant past, and a culture frozen in time, where any trappings of modern life are an invalidation of “Indian-ness.” The Doctrine of Discovery asserts that Indigenous peoples are inferior and less than human, and therefore cannot own land so it is Terra Nullius, empty. The way Indigenous women are repeatedly represented in highly sexualized ways has resulted in higher instances of rape and they are 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other women, usually by non-native men.

6. Boils: Disease

Since Europeans first set foot onto Turtle Island, they brought with them diseases that had never before been seen in this part of the world; such as measles, scarlet fever, typhoid, typhus, influenza, whooping cough, tuberculosis, cholera, diphtheria, chicken pox, and sexually transmitted diseases. In contrast, syphilis is the one disease thought to have passed from the Indigenous peoples of America to Europeans (Wikipedia). According to one estimate, the North American Indian population was reduced from an estimated 12 million in 1500 to barely 237,000 in 1900 (Churchill). Reports of biological warfare can also be found in many history books, in which blankets inoculated with smallpox were intentionally given to Indigenous peoples. Debates over death and disease of Indigenous peoples in the Americas often turn to a numbers game, or a game of denial, but the sad truth is, that the plague continues. Today, Indigenous peoples face some serious health-related challenges, such as high rates of chronic and contagious diseases and a shorter life expectancy. For example, 15 per cent of new HIV and AIDS infections occur in Aboriginal people.

Compared to the general Canadian population,

• Heart disease is 1.5 times higher,

• Type 2 diabetes is 3 to 5 times higher among First Nations people and rates are increasing among the Inuit; and

• Tuberculosis infection rates are 8 to 10 times higher.


7. The Plague of Hail and Fire: Justice

It’s difficult to have justice on stolen land. Aboriginal peoples in Canada are 4% of the total population, yet they comprise 21% of the male prisoner population, and 30% of the female prisoner population (http://www.prisonjustice.ca/politics/facts_stats.html).

“Sometimes when Native women go missing, I hear they leave it alone.” (Phrase spoken by Ferris Morriseau, three days after the murder of her 27 year old sister Kelly Morriseau). In Canada, there is a lack of government, criminal justice, media and public response to this epidemic of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Data gathered by the grassroots Aboriginal women’s group “Walk for Justice,” indicates that there have been up to 3000 missing and murdered women, with an estimated 80%, or 2400 involving Aboriginal women and girls. The Native Women’s Association of Canada has gathered data on 600 confirmed cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. A majority of these cases occurred since the year 2000, and just under half of these cases remain unsolved, comparatively in the rest of the Canadian population, the solving rate for homicide is 84%. (Statistics borrowed from a March 9th 2011 speech by Kristen Gilchrist of the organization: Families of Sisters in Spirit).

In Canada, there have been many cases of “Starlight Tours”, in which the police pick up an Aboriginal person in their cruiser, drive them to the outskirts of the city, and abandon them on the side of the road. In 1990, Cree teenager Neil Stonechild, died of hypothermia after being taken by police to the northwest section of Saskatoon, and abandoned in a field on a night when temperatures were below −28°C

8. Plague of Locusts: Broken Treaties

11 Post-confederation Treaties, also known as the numbered treaties, were signed between 1871 and 1921. Despite many of these treaties involving coercion, continually being breached by the Canadian government, and not involving Indigenous women who by tradition often had the final authority; they are still regarded as sacred agreements that must be upheld. Today, Specific Claims deal with the past grievances of First Nations that relate to Canada’s obligations under historic treaties. Although there are only 630 First Nations Bands in Canada, 1114 Specific Claims agreements have been made, and 344 are currently in progress, suggesting that almost every First Nation likely has one or more historical grievance related to the breach of a Treaty. (http://pse5-esd5.ainc-inac.gc.ca/SCBRI_E/Main/ReportingCentre/PreviewReport.aspx?output=HTML)

Modern day treaties have also been signed, such as the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, or the Nunavut Agreement. These new agreements often contain “Extinguishment clauses” in which the First Nation must agree to the surrender of Aboriginal Title. Most First Nations see modern treaties as ways of reaffirming and asserting their continuing ownership of their traditional territories. The state sees modern treaties as a way of ending that ownership in “exchange” for much smaller pieces of land and a small chunk of capital. It seems colonial conquest in Canada still continues.

9. Plague of Darkness: Religion

There is a dark history in Canada. A history in which one belief system, one religion and one way of life were thought to be superior, and forced onto other groups of people. Through missionaries and residential schools, colonial powers tried to convert Indigenous peoples from traditional religions and spirituality to Christianity. Under the Indian Act, Indigenous religious practices, such as the potlatch, the powwow and the sun-dance, were banned and made illegal.

10. Plague of the First Born: Residential Schools

Stemming from a policy of “Killing the Indian in the Child”, in 1920, the Federal Government made attendance at a Residential School compulsory for all First Nations children. They were forcibly removed from their homes and communities, deprived from learning or speaking their traditional languages and cultures, and many were exposed to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of school staff. Mortality rates at some residential schools in Western Canada ranged from 30% to 60% over five years (that is, five years after entry, 30% to 60% of students had died, or 6–12% per annum) [Wikipedia]. Mass graves have been found at many schools, and today many inter-generational effects continue to be seen in the children of survivors. The loss of language, culture, and identity, and the loss of connection to family and community, can all be connected to the genocidal Residential School system. The federal government of Canada has made reconciliation attempts, and in 2008 the Prime Minister of Canada made an apology for Residential Schools.

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