Allan Polchies, the chief of Sitansisk (St. Mary’s First Nation), says the Higgs government is hurting trans youth with its new school gender policy. Savannah Awde/ Brunswick News
The Assembly of First Nations is condemning the school gender identity policy changes in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, arguing they violate Indigenous principles of self-determination and identity.
Allan Polchies Jr., the chief of Sitansisk (St. Mary’s First Nation) in Fredericton and the New Brunswick representative for the assembly’s 2SLGBTQQIA+ Council, says the changes are dangerous and trans-phobic.
A member of the Two Spirit community, the Indigenous leader said he knows what it’s like for a child to feel threatened.
“These policies are dangerous and will elevate the psychological stress and self-harm of these youth,” he told Brunswick News on Wednesday. “As a 53-year-old man, I grew up in a time when being Two Spirit wasn’t really discussed. Now, we live in a society where the 2SLGBTQQIA+ is part of the mainstream. So this is a reversal by the Higgs government, trying to make the lives of the most vulnerable more difficult.”
In a release Wednesday, Joanna Bernard, the interim national chief, said First Nations in Canada had a rich history of honouring 2SLGBTQQIA+ people, including trans, gay and lesbian youth.
The changes “are not just discriminatory and a clear violation of basic human rights, but also dangerously misguided,” said Bernard, who once served as the chief of Matawaskiye (Madawaska Maliseet First Nation) in northwestern New Brunswick.
“This policy conflicts with our cultural norms and does not align with the principles of self-determination and identity that are vital to the health and well-being of First Nations in Canada. Further, this policy puts 2SLGBTQQIA+ youth in danger of being outed in unsupportive environments or being misgendered at school, both of which can have harmful consequences.”
New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative government announced last spring it was reforming the province’s school gender policy. Among the changes, transgender students under the age of 16 who want to informally use a different name or pronoun are no longer allowed to do so in the classroom without a parent’s permission.
The provincial government in Saskatchewan has moved ahead with a similar reform, and the Tory premier of Manitoba, Heather Stefanson, says her government will introduce like-minded changes if she wins her province’s election Oct. 3.
The latest politician to join the fray is Tory Premier Doug Ford of Ontario. On Friday he told a crowd of hundreds that it’s a parent’s right to “listen and make sure they are informed when their children make a decision.”
“It’s not up to the teachers, it’s not up to the school boards to indoctrinate our kids,” Ford said, referring to the policy of Ontario school boards that allow students to choose their own pronouns and names.
Several New Brunswick organizations have condemned the Higgs government for the change, saying it threatens student safety. They include 76 professors at the University of New Brunswick’s faculty of arts, several members of the nurses faculty and groups that support lesbian, gay and trans youth. District education councils have also balked, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association is suing the province over its stance.
Parental rights groups have countered that teachers and school administrators should not decide whether it’s OK for younger children to change their identities. Parents, they say, should be at the core of a child’s upbringing.
Polchies said schools across the country should serve as safe spaces where all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, feel empowered to express themselves.
“The push for these policy changes are motivated by right-wing, American-style scare tactics,” he said. “Rather than an interest in seeing all of our children grow and thrive, these politicians believe they’re going to gain the interest of voters.
“Well, when you’re straight you’re straight, and when you’re gay, you’re gay. The Creator has gifted your spirit whether you’re gay, straight, bi, transgender, that is who you are and no one can take that away from you.”
The Higgs government did not immediately reply for comment.
When the Tory government’s reforms were announced in the spring, they created international headlines. Eight of 29 Tory MLAs expressed displeasure with the changes, and two cabinet ministers ultimately resigned, while Premier Blaine Higgs fired two others.
Tyler George, Saskatchewan regional representative for the assembly’s 2SLGBTQQIA+ Council, said the policies put children in danger.
“Many Two Spirit and LGBTQQIA+ youth grow up in homes that do not accept them. Our youth often face alienation and lack of support by their own families. Considering the high suicide rates among First Nations, especially within the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community, schools should be safe havens, not places where identities are subject to parental approval.”
George said the changes undermine inherent rights “to be who the Creator made us to be and maintains the troubling legacy of colonial policies aimed at erasing our identities and the continued oppression.”
The Indigenous leaders called upon the governments to repeal the “discriminatory” policies and issue formal apologies.
By: John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Gleaner