Featured Staff Story: Danielle Araya’s work with 2 Spirited Peoples of 1st Nations
We spoke to Danielle Araya, a staff member at The 519 and Vice-President of the Board of 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations - a non-profit social service organization whose membership consists of Aboriginal 2-Spirit People.
The 519 is excited to showcase one of our own! Danielle Araya (she/her/they/them). Dani is one of our amazing program coordinators who also facilitates education sessions through The 519’s Education and Training Team. Dani is also Vice-President of 2 Spirited Peoples of the 1st Nations Board. We are excited to showcase this organization and the important work it does in our communities as June is not just Pride month but is also Indigenous Awareness Month.
As a youth in the Toronto District School Board’s Triangle Program, Dani connected with 2 Spirited Peoples of the 1st Nations and The 519. Many years later, she is an integral part of both these organizations and facilitates change and community building. We spoke to Dani about the importance and role of 2 Spirited Peoples of the 1st Nations in Toronto’s LGBTQ2S communities.
What does 2 Spirited Peoples of the 1st Nations do?
2 Spirited Peoples of the 1st Nations serves two spirit people of Toronto, an urban community that has people who come from all over Canada. Our organization is made up of individuals who are looking to reconnect with their cultural identities within this large urban centre. Over the years our organization has grown and changed, though we have always stayed true to supporting Indigenous LGBTQ2S folks. Recently, we have started to work more specifically with folks around HIV/AIDS. Much of our funding comes from and goes to HIV/AIDS services, such as building awareness and education, while creating supportive programming. We view the work with our communities as a holistic endeavour.
When I started going to 2 Spirits in 2001, it was a primarily peer support and drop-in space – it was a wonderful space to connect with community members and attend peer led events and programs. It was and is a community-orientated space that is about supporting the unique individuals in the city who identify as Two Spirit. We focus on celebrating and supporting Two Spirit communities past, present, and future. The organization does a lot of work with our communities around HIV/AIDS, issues around the opioid crisis, and a lot around harm reduction. We continue to do educational work to build cultural competency around Two Spirit issues more broadly in other organizations and places in the city. For the future, the focus will be to do more community engagement and continue the work in education, while fostering community connections – to expand capacity.
Why is 2 Spirited Peoples of the 1st Nations important?
2 Spirited Peoples of the 1st Nations is important to the city as we bring together knowledge and history around a community that may not be allowed to exist in Indigenous or queer spaces. The organization works to bridge the gaps to create a unique space based on a cultural identity that is often given no space anywhere else. We continue a legacy that Two Spirit people carry on. Our communities have been built by leaders and elders, who have come and gone. It is important to us that we see Two Spirit people flourish.
The whole reason the organization was created was because in Toronto, LGBTQ2S Indigenous people were gathering at The 519 and decided that they needed to incorporate as an organization in order to address their own needs and create their own spaces. This happened in 1994, about a year after the term Two Spirit began to be used to describe a cultural and spiritual identity unique to Indigenous people.
This legacy continues to bring together our cultural family and unite siblings into this distinctive and growing community. Many of our people have had to leave their community of origin because of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation, so we create our own family here.
What are some initiatives that people can check out?
We are currently in a time of transition. We are excited to make some changes and announcements about our leadership and direction will be coming soon.
Through all this, we continue to build upon and develop our community engagement and outreach. We are excited to bring new energy to the organization; while creating more fundraising and educational opportunities across Canada. We will teach people about the traditions of Two Spirit people, as well as the work we do at 2 Spirited Peoples of the 1st Nations. We are also working to build upon the existing programs and services we have to support the diverse needs of our communities. We invite folks to check our website. The future looks bright, so keep your eyes and ears open for us.
Interview and piece contributed by Jacq Hixson Vulpe, Senior Consultant and Education & Training facilitator at The 519.