Hendrix Olson (Center) with Staff from the Mountain Center at Santa Fe Pride, 2019 (Photo Credit: The Mountain Center)
By Hendrix Olson
Hendrix (Henny) Olson is the New Mexico GSA Network Program Coordinator at The Mountain Center. They are Mvskoke Creek, Xicanx, and of settler descent from Oklahoma, and they identify as Non-Binary and Queer. This blog is based on their experience in these identities, as well as experiences shared by other LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit Natives, and seeks to enhance solidarity for LGBTQ2s+ Indigenous youth within a cultural, educational, and activist context.
Many of us are still raised and socialized with values instilled by settler colonialism and its resulting systems of misogyny, cisnormativity, and heteronormativity. Not only does this exacerbate possible feelings of exclusion for LGBTQ2s+ youth, it upholds the efforts of colonialism to erase the many Indigenous histories that cite the empowerment of relatives that exist outside of colonial expectations of gender and community roles.
We must break this cycle by teaching and acknowledging those more inclusive traditional histories to our communities by creating and continuing dialogue on how to include LGBTQ2s+ relatives within cultural practices and language. Once this facet of Indigenous kinship is prioritized, I hope to see the day where Native youth have more opportunities to celebrate this history and knowledge.
Within our educational system, there are many challenges that affect marginalized youth. A term I learned from Dr. Bettina Love, an award-winning author and esteemed educational researcher, is the “learning tax.” She described the learning tax as the recognition of the obstacles that marginalized students face on top of the already stressful experiences of education. Many of our Native youth attend schools with curriculum that have little to no representation of Native people. The few resources that mention Indigenous people are filled with false narratives and racism. If they also identify as LGBTQ2s+, there is a similar lack of representation. On top of that, this lackluster education perpetuates and worsens the presence of racism, homophobia, and transphobia that could exist in the overall school environment.
There are many things that people in power within the educational system can do to be in better solidarity with marginalized youth. The first thing that comes to my mind is providing space to acknowledge the work and perspectives of marginalized communities in a historical and contemporary context. It would be amazing to see a shift to a curriculum that centers history written from the perspectives of Native people, that recognizes the impacts of BIPOC LGBTQ2s+ people on justice movements such as the LGBTQ2s+ rights movement, and leaves room for students to integrate their culture in their own ways during lessons or in assignments.
Not only could there be more representation of marginalized communities within school staff and faculty, there is also room for growth in how we prepare teachers to recognize and empower their marginalized students. We could normalize mandated training on Anti-Oppression movements and history, LGBTQ2s+ 101, Bystander Intervention for Allies, along with other lessons that can improve the experience and safety of our marginalized youth within the school setting. Improving solidarity doesn’t have to stop there!
As a middle schooler being introduced to LGBTQ+ activism and advocacy, it was difficult to navigate my multi-faceted identity within a single justice movement. Outside of Native family members that are also LGBTQ+, I didn’t know of people like us that were a part of leadership roles within the LGBTQ+ rights movement, nor at that time could I name any LGBTQ2s+ Native person depicted in mainstream media at the capacity of white cis LGB people. I’m seeing now that the thread connecting these needs for improvement (in cultural reclamation, education, and activism) is that representation matters. Particularly, representation that gives proper space to be centered and facilitated by our own communities.
The note I will end with is: always listen to our Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ Native youth. The needs for support don’t end within the few topics I just mentioned. We can and we must improve our ability to provide space for our young people to feel safe, validated, cherished, and empowered. I want to see more of our LGBTQ2s+ Native youth become LGBTQ2s+ Native elders, as I hope to become one myself. Mvto. Thank you.