Nunavut MLA called out for statement about ‘two-spirit’

Cathy Towtongie says she was critiquing the word, rather than the spirit, of motion supporting “two-spirit” residents

Cathy Towtongie, MLA for Rankin Inlet North–Chesterfield Inlet, says comments she made in the legislature last week about the term “two-spirit” and Inuit culture were misinterpreted. (File photo)

By Emma Tranter

A Nunavut MLA is clarifying remarks she made in the legislative assembly last week about the definition of “two-spirit” after online backlash reacting to her statement.

Cathy Towtongie, MLA for Rankin Inlet North–Chesterfield Inlet, stood in the assembly to reply to the motion put forward by Family Services Minister Elisapee Sheutiapik.

Sheutiapik’s motion read: “And whereas the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls called upon all governments to work with Inuit to provide public awareness and education to combat the normalization of domestic violence and sexualized violence against Inuit women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, and the acronym stands for two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual and these are lists of how an individual identifies themselves.”

Towtongie spoke in support of the motion, but highlighted the term “two-spirit.”

“I have read that two-spirited people is not the Inuit way of life. I believe in procreation and I believe that animals have babies and Inuit too,” Towtongie said through interpretation.

“We know that having two spirits is not from Inuit culture. Procreation and having babies continues today. It’s how we survived up to 2020,” she said to applause from other MLAs.

The Provincial Health Services Authority of British Columbia defines two-spirit as “a term used within some Indigenous communities, encompassing cultural, spiritual, sexual and gender identity.”

When the official transcript of Towtongie’s speech had been put up online, several people took to social media and expressed concern over the MLA’s choice of words.

Anna Lambe, from Iqaluit, posted a public letter on Facebook urging the assembly “to reevaluate its values and beliefs in representing Nunavummiut in a fair and just manner… and reprimand not only the actions of Cathy Towtongie but of those that were in support of her comments March 5, 2020.”

Lambe’s letter also said Towtongie’s comments were “stigmatizing and alienating” to LGBTQ2S+ Inuit.

“By making these comments, Towtongie suggests that she supports the motion, except for the protections of LGBTQ2S+ individuals as they are not accepted into the ‘Inuit way of life,’” Lambe’s letter reads.

“How this was not reprimanded the moment she concluded her statement shocks me, but not nearly as much as the fact that she was applauded for her comments by other member of the legislative assembly.”

David Lawson, another Iqaluit resident, made a Facebook post about the comments, saying he felt compelled to respond.

“The motion called on elected leaders to be role models – yet I’m embarrassed and ashamed of one of my own MLAs who brings in her personal views and state this from such a high profile profile and influential position,” Lawson’s post read.

Lawson also called other elected officials to respond to Towtongie’s comments.

“I hope our other elected leaders respond to this and not simply ignore what hurt many Nunavummiut. The legislature needs to point out (as there was applause at the end of her statement) that her personal views are not their views as a whole.”

Speaking to Nunatsiaq News, Towtongie said she was confused by Sheutiapik’s use of “two-spirit” in her motion.

“Two-spirit, the definition is from First Nations. We have an older Inuktitut term… but we’ve forgotten those terms. That’s why I was confused,” Towtongie said.

“I wholeheartedly agree there should be no violence, but towards the end I said, yes I believe in procreation, but this two-spirited… the definition does not align with our definition,” she said.

Towtongie said the Inuktitut to English interpretation in the legislative assembly lost the meaning of her speech.

“Two-spirited is the history of First Nations, but in our culture, in Nunavut, we never use two-spirited,” Towtongie said.

“There are other definitions, older terminology. That’s what I said.”

In 2014, when she was president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc, Towtongie commended Iqaluit city councillor Simon Nattaq for speaking out against the decision to raise a rainbow flag outside of Iqaluit city hall during the winter Olympics.

Towtongie did not apologize for her comments at the time. But later, NTI said in a news release that it aimed to “promote the rights and opportunities of the Inuit of Nunavut as a whole, and fair treatment of disadvantaged groups within the Inuit population, respecting the dignity of every person and avoiding discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, or mental or physical disability.”

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(43) Comments:

  1. Posted by Trumpy on

    A great example of Cathy’s Trump mentality in action:

    -Turns a positive action (the motion) into a sideshow.
    -Gives a confident but incoherent rant about multiple subjects all weaved together, based on things “people have told her”.
    -Vaguely questions something that is more or less accepted in modern society (acceptance of LGBT), simply for the sake of questioning it.
    -Denies that she said anything wrong (despite the fact that the audio tape probably confirms that she did in fact say those things).
    -Throws lower level staff (translators) under the bus in order to save face.
    -Doesn’t apologize.

    Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

    • Posted by well said on

      Well said, Trumpy.

      She should do the right thing and resign, but of course, she won’t. Chester and Rankin North, I hope you make her unemployed in the next election. What a shining example of a religious ZEALOT.

      • Posted by Rankin Voter on

        I didn’t vote for her, not would I. But sadly she is popular enough and her warped opinions on things are also.

        • Posted by Former Insider on

          Ms. Towtongie’s comments were clumsy, silly and poorly framed. She did make some valid points but they got all garbled up with her perceived homophobia and simplistic concepts of traditional culture.

          She is obviously right about the “two-spirit” concept which is an exclusively First Nations idea with no real equivalent in Inuit culture. The idea of two spirited people was never supposed to be appropriated by other cultures. It is a spiritual idea unique to First Nations and First Nations only.

          I also don’t understand why GN staff had to use that silly “2SLGBTQQIA” acronym when they wrote that motion. It is completely alien and unknown to the vast majority of Inuit, if not most people in Canada. When I sat in the House and listened to Ms. Sheutiapik when she read her motion, she did not even know how to say it properly. LOL Can you imagine being an interpreter and being forced to interpret “2SLGBTQQIA” into Inuktitut?

          Ms. Towtongie obviously grew up in an atmosphere of homophobia and she is having a lot of trouble shedding her old fears and does not know how to clearly express herself.

          At the present time, however, she probably does reflect the ongoing homophobia and confusion of her constituency and her community. She probably does reflect the majority of Kivalliq people at this moment.

          • Posted by Polar Bear on

            The motion used that acronym because that’s the acronym the MMIWG Inquiry used in their report and recommendations.

          • Posted by Inuk Man on

            Shame on you assuming all Kivallimiut are like her. I bet you are Qikiqtalumiut?

            • Posted by Double Shame on

              Shame on you for saying “shame on you”. Can we leave shame out of it, please?

              And they said “most”, not “all”.

            • Posted by Rankin Voter on

              They might not represent your views, they don’t represent mine, but I would not be surprised if they do represent the majority at all. If you live here this can’t be surprising to you, can it?!

  2. Posted by Larry on

    I think her personal feelings get in the way of many good things and this is what we get out of her.
    Over the years she has said many hurtful things, many things that don’t make much sense, coming from her beliefs from her western religion.
    She tries to mix her western religion with Inuit traditional knowledge to make it believable or to sell what she is saying is right. When it’s not.
    It will be nice to have the younger generation elected in this government, make some real progress and move away from this kind of show that we have now.

  3. Posted by Fiona Paton on

    Cathy Towtongie should step down from her position as MLA. Her views are harmful and hateful. Homophobia has no place in our society. I am disgusted by her opinions.
    Our MLA’s need sensitivity training, by the Pride community.

  4. Posted by Devils Advocate on

    Before everyone climbs on the bandwagon, let’s look at what Cathy actually said.

    -“I have read that two-spirited people is not the Inuit way of life. I believe in procreation and I believe that animals have babies and Inuit too,” Towtongie said through interpretation.

    -“We know that having two spirits is not from Inuit culture. Procreation and having babies continues today. It’s how we survived up to 2020,” she said to applause from other MLAs.

    I still don’t know what two-spirited means, and the BC definition in the article is sufficiently vague as to be meaningless.

    If y’all are talking about LGBT folk, that’s more understandable, so why not just say that? I’m not First Nations, and neither is Cathy. Why should we be expected to adopt their terminology?

    As for procreation, I’m all for it too. Aren’t you?

    I’m a big fan of judging politicians by what they do and not what they say. I’ve never seen Cathy actually do anything contrary to the rights or well-being of LGBT people.

    Keep your powder dry and maybe use it to actually benefit Nunavut. You’d be surprised at how many Rankinmiut are completely disgusted by this latest attempt to smear Cathy. Not because they’re raging homophobes, but because they see how a few sufficiently indignant social media posts now qualifies as news.

    • Posted by Former Insider on

      I agree that Ms. Towtongie would not knowingly do any harm to any LGBT person, but “knowingly” is the problem. Ms. Towtongie often doesn’t literally know what she is saying when she unknowingly wades into issues like this.
      She is so clumsy, she is capable of unknowingly encouraging abuse of LGBT people without realizing the harm she is doing.
      Like you said, the two spirit thing is First Nations only and irrelevant to Nunavut and I do not know why the GN had to put it into the motion. All they have to say is “queer” or “gay” or “LGBT” and they would cover all the bases.
      By the way there are many homophobic Nunavut leaders but unlike Cathy they are devious enough to avoid the issue and keep their mouths shut about it.

  5. Posted by rankinnchesterfeildwhy on

    We all know she is anti-gay by her previous statements. I am in disbelief she was ever elected and embarrassed by the low standards for Nunavut leadership.

    She uses her power to abuse others then uses gaslighting and lateral violence to try to conceal her pure ignorance (blaming people that don’t speak Inuktitut for not understanding what she meant).

    She may not communicate well in any language but her bigotry and divisiveness speak loud and clear.

    • Posted by There are no words on

      I sure hope everyone piling on heard the Inuktitut house speech by Cathy.

      If not y’all jumpin on second hand info. What did she say IN INUKTITUT??

      Do we believe MLAs would have applauded hate speech in the House? Obviously what she said in Inuktitit is going to be different.

      Let’s hear from some commenters who actually got, firsthand, what was said.

  6. Posted by Time to go on

    I don’t know what’s worse.. the actual comments she made or the fact that she tried to cover it all up with some bullshit excuse/story…

    It is seriously time to go, lady… Premiere Joe, do what’s right.. Nunavut does not need leaders like this… and we all know she won’t step down willingly.

    • Posted by Not how it works on

      The premier can’t remove an MLA. To the contrary, the MLAs can remove the premier from the premier job (but not his MLA job).

  7. Posted by Aleph on

    Interesting that the article mentions 2SLGBTQQIA but also LGBTQ2S+.

    Which one is correct in Nunavut unique cultural milieu? Surely the incorrect acronym is yet another example of colonial imperialism, that denies the existence of hundreds of people?

    Can some policy analyst from Family Services or NTI please enact the labour to settle this matter once and for all?

  8. Posted by george on

    She has openly shown homophobic views in the past, constantly talks without thought and is clueless- fits in perfectly with the old boys club of elected officials of Nunavut. It’s great that she’s being called out. It’s the only way to show these views don’t belong. There has been a slow movement of younger leaders taking over and I can’t wait till shameful, dated views are weeded out. Good on Anne and Lawson!

  9. Posted by kimberl on

    Soon the acronym is going to look like some cat got hold of the keyboard !@#$%^&*()dfskghlhn .. how about we just use the term ‘people’ to refer to our fellow human species; and let each individual identify as they please! For the record, this article just confuses the reader more on what 2 spirited is.

  10. Posted by George on

    She needs a full time assistant by her side to steer her and to stop her from saying these things.

  11. Posted by Kathy Friend on

    This is just a mess. I try to explain where Kathy comes from. She is born again Christian or spiritually born. She believes that human are not naturally born in the spirit. They are born of the flesh and are living souls. A human soul has to ask God to give them a spiritual birth and become born again.
    Spirits that are not of God are the enemies of God and his believers. Spirits are either, God, angels, demons, or born again humans. So Kathy may be trying to explain something but may be intimated and scared. Judging from all the negative comments, she should be scared to speak freely.

    • Posted by Looney Tunes on

      Looney tune beliefs don’t justify discriminatory words and the legislative assembly is not her church.

  12. Posted by APlainview on

    No seems to be able to explain what two-spirit exactly is or why a First Nations term is being placed on the Inuit.
    But more traditional leaders should be respected, not ousted because they don’t tow the neo-liberal line. There is nothing hateful about what she said. Don’t let this mob-rule and cancel culture take over.

    • Posted by george on

      “Cancel culture” sounds catchy and saying/typing a new buzz word gives the illusion of legitimacy but in the end it’s just a generalization, a weak crutch for dismissing valid points. I compare it to the “That’s what you are but what am I” comeback.

      • Posted by APlainview on

        You sound like you’re part of the problem, mighty keyboard warrior “george.” An internet pile-on for unpopular opinions, unjustly labelled for “hate” and “homophobia” help no one and provide no clarity on the issue. Apparently anything less than resounding support for the destruction of traditional beliefs means a call for resignation, always.

      • Posted by This is why it is Cancel Culture on

        People are calling for her cancellation (resignation, removal) because she uttered something in response to a throw-away bit of jargon from Minister Sheutiapik that is prima facie homophobic. This is being done in a summary way, without any real discussion of what she actually said. That’s cancel culture.

        The offending element was her preference for procreation (paradoxically, I’ve also recently heard her say that people are procreating too much). Procreation does have undeniable benefits from a Darwinian perspective (Cathy probably wouldn’t phrase it that way) and she is far from the first Inuk woman I’ve heard extolling its virtues.

        People are interpreting this as insinuating that homosexuality is bad or against Inuit culture. It’s hard to know exactly what she really thinks, but given the context it’s safe to say she at least has reservations. It is unfortunate that she is not more actively accepting, but this is where many Inuit of her generation are in their thinking still.

        Fortunately, younger Inuit leaders are much more open-minded and accepting, but this could be just because they are fairly cosmopolitan – it’s hard to know if this attitude is shared by other young people across the territory and it’s possible that Cathy’s (apparent) stance will be passed on to younger Inuit.

        Cathy has an honesty that people appreciate (even if it tends towards incoherence). I strongly disagree with the gist of her insinuation here, but at least she is creating an opportunity for society to process this without it being openly hateful.

        So, back to cancel culture. It’s real and it’s lazy, cowardly and an outgrowth of some of humanity’s worst tendencies. Stop it.

        Someone of Cathy’s generation (sorry Hickes and Lightstone) needs to articulate a strong, competing narrative. Sheutiapik was reading the wonkery that was written for her with very little conviction or sincerity, let alone relevance to Inuit society. Isn’t her failure to make it real – as the point person on the issue at that moment – just as bad? But under the rules of cancel culture she is safe because she toed the line and muddled through the correct recitations. Pathetic (the rules, not Elisapee – she’s OK, if a little timid).

        Cancellation is just shooing the homophobe back into the closet (pardon the metaphor).

        • Posted by Poli-Theory 100 on

          To APlainview, interesting thoughts that I tend to agree with on cancel culture, though I can’t stand Cathy’s archaic, incoherent views much of the time. Still, I can’t stand the ‘cancel culture’ either. I just want to point out that this is not a product of neo-liberalism. I’ve seen that term misused in this context a few times. Neoliberalism mostly describes a collection of positions that are grounded in classical liberal, laissez-faire economics. I think the term that more closely gets at what you are saying is progressivism. Which in this context is a form of far leftism and seems to have taken from postmodernism, yet is also paradoxically quite authoritarian.

  13. Posted by Nunavutmiuta on

    Just say whatever you want to say Cathy. Don’t worry about all the negativity . Politicians who are too careful to say anything are not good. Too many elected people are scared to be criticized so they never say anything that might get people upset. Lots and lots of us understand that two spirited people term is from the First Nation. Too many Inuit have lost their identity and what their foundation is.
    It’s not an issue of what you have sex with, it’s an issue of the term. If you translate it, it would sound like “two breaths” which doesn’t make sense, as we have only one mouth and one nose as a human. ᐃᓱᒪᓱᑐᐃᑦ ᓂᖓᐅᒪᒍᒪᒍᑎᒃ ᑐᑭᓯᔪᒍᓕ ᐅᓇᓕᐅᖏᓇᑉᑕ.

  14. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Those that are critical of Ms. Towtongie are correct, and it’s very simple to explain why that is the case.
    When elected as an MLA you are elected to represent ALL of your constituents, not only those that have the same beliefs that you do.
    Society is changing and Ms. Towtongie needs to realize that, acknowledge it, and be proactive, which includes having an open mind on a large range of issues, including individual sexuality.

  15. Posted by Okay on

    2SLGBTQQIA, please stop!
    I want to be delicate. Cathy may have been nunavut smart a long time ago. Nunavut has moved passed Cathy.

  16. Posted by a on

    Two-spiritedness, or any indentity, is not a cultural event – not in Nunavut nor elsewhere. Freedom of its expression is a cultural event. Different people, different culture.

    There is no singular culture in Nunavut, nor elsewhere. There was no occasion for Kathy to express her cultural expertise or ignorance in the legislature, any more than there was for Lorne Kusagak to express his. The legislature is not for that.

    The Premier, the Leader of the Members’ Caucas and the Speaker need to find the handle.

    • Posted by Oxford Coma on

      Funny that the motion didn’t mention the Fa’afafines of Samoan culture or the Hijra of Indian culture. Only the Two-Spirited of Southern Canada.

      You’re angry at Cathy, and that’s understandable, but scolding her into silence isn’t advancing anything, it’s just deepening divisions.

  17. Posted by Speak mla on

    MLAs and other persons elected should speak. That is why they get elected.
    What is homophobia? Is much more sensitive than eskimophobia. The two are both blast points, but they cause different powers of fight.
    Also it is very acceptable to be hateful with the Christian view points of people like Kathy.

  18. Posted by Voter on

    And her embarrassing talk in Igalaaq last night. Blaming the interpreter for her homophobic remarks. Guess she thought Nunavut would stand behind her ugly comments and now that there as been a public out cry she is trying to back peddle.

  19. Posted by Laughed on

    I laughed when I saw her being interviewed by madelene on tv! Trying to explain herself. Talking about babies in the womb, sex changing. Lmaf has nothing to with the motion.

  20. Posted by Silas on

    The term 2 Spirited is meaningless to Inuit. It is derived from a people who, in history, were hostile to Inuit for the most part, though there were instances of trade between them. This should have been caught by the Minister of Family Services, an Inuk, and should not have even been used in the Nunavut Legislature in the first place.
    I believe, the minister, not knowing or catching this expression just goes to show how much colonialism has affected Inuit when they don’t know their own history.

    • Posted by Okay on

      Except that an MLA represents everyone. So an Inuk mla represent everyone that just Inuit. At NTI for example, its government represents the interest of Inuit. Minorities in Nunavut are becoming a persecuted class. Blacks have been experiencing it in Nunavut for a while. Now Whites are getting a taste of how it feels to be a persecuted class

      • Posted by Silas on

        A Minister is supposed to represent everyone as far as their portfolio is concerned.
        An MLA represents their constituency/community (ies), they work to try and represent the people who voted for them.
        The ministers are MLA’s as well so they try to separate their ministerial portfolios from the representation of their constituents/community (ies), which may seem contradictory but that is the way it works.

  21. Posted by Putuguk on

    I am pretty certain Inuit non-hetero people are not alphabet soup people.

    All these past decades and generations, Inuit have been studied by other people for their own purposes at the same time we were being Christianized. Because of the convergence of these two things, this whole topic seems to have been ignored.

    Now we have things like Inuit Heritage Trust, Language Commissioner, Inuktun terminology committees, and Inuit openly practicing what I could broadly describe as alternative lifestyles.

    We have our own tools to use. It seems to me to be high time we did our own work on this. Simply parroting what is created in the south is just not good enough. For Cathy’s generation, doing it this way obviously has the feel of something being imposed.

    How were non heterosexual Inuit known in the past? What were they called? How were people like this understood and integrated in society?

    All of these answers seem to be in our own grasp. So why are we not doing this, and having to borrow from foreign cultures such as First Nations in how we view some of our own people? This is important not only for the people that are born this way, but also for their families and communities too.

    Whatever the religious people have said is obviously wrong. Inuit were not all heterosexual before Christianity. If we do not discover this part of our past, it robs alternative Inuit from their rightful place in our culture. Who knows, like many other things, perhaps pre-contact Inuit culture has some valuable lessons to teach broader society about sexuality.

    • Posted by Inuit Heritage on

      Good questions that Inuit heritage persons should be able to answer. Answers that are just in bullet point would be really helpful.

  22. Posted by Wowzers on

    The tactics of the left bully and try to intimidate. Media should stick to news instead of pushing political agendas.

    • Posted by IQless on

      Yeah, but Igalaaq host didn’t hesitate to push her agenda on her guest last night…damn she was trying to school her guest

  23. Posted by Matlock on

    Prima facie! Keep your powder dry! Laissez-faire! Well, the lawyers are all over this comment section. Speak plainly, this is Nunatsiaq comments not Akitsiraq. For the sake of the average reader at least.

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