Pride is Indigenous: Featuring Penny Kagigebi

June is LGBTQA2+ PRIDE Month. NACDI recognizes the contributions of Two Spirit and queer people to our community with this series of writings from Two Spirit and allies. We embrace the traditional roles of our Two Spirit relatives. 

Words by Penny Kagigebi:
Boozhoo Indinawemaaganidook / Greetings Relatives – 

What I thought I knew has flipped, repositioned and moved again over the past four years. I became aware that my artwork and practice was needed to spark conversations for 2-Spirit cultural reclamation – that I’m required to be highly visible, to stand where young 2-Spirit relatives can see me. To offer tobacco, to look for buried knowledge. To feed and nurture what’s to come. What needs to come.

There’s a confluence of beautiful potential when 2-Spirit / Native queer & gender expansive relatives fully embody their gifts. However, it’s disrupted by boarding school-infused homophobia and health disparities in our communities, especially suicide rates for 2-Spirit / Native queer & gender expansive youth. We come into this life with gifts and 2-Spirit medicine for healthy and vibrant communities while struggling to survive being here. 

They say that every 2-Spirit child was celebrated as a gift in their village. There are Anishinaabe origin stories now being heard from remote Canadian locations of 2-Spirit ancestors who descended from the stars in a space between male and female. We have work to do to seek balance, to bring perspective, to do much more.

2-Spirit relatives are complicated, beautiful, layered and existing in grand variation. These ones in their teens, twenties, thirties, seem to have come with different instructions. New (or old?) instructions. I see in them wondrous and joy-filled light. I don’t have anything to teach them and everything to learn. They’re fighting for their lives in a world that’s been waiting for them to be here now, to be fantastical and free and spirit-filled.

For them, I’m impatient and demanding. Tolerance and acceptance make me angry. A handful of tolerance and acceptance stinks like “we probably won’t try to kill you this time.” Whenever you see startling statistics for Native instability in housing, food insecurity, health disparities – mark that down as exponentially more dangerous for 2-Spirit relatives and worse for children, youth, anyone who is entirely dependent on someone else. 

See? This is our situation today. Crazy contrasts between beauty and danger.  

Let this be a call to 2-Spirit relatives. Find your medicine. Pick up your gifts. Hear what I was told last year: stop pushing your work off to others. Our voices are needed now. 

Visible 2-Spirit elders are necessary so youth can imagine living long enough to become an elder. Given the poor life expectancy rates for Natives, it’s 40 and 50-year-olds who are our 2-Spirit elders now. Please let kids see so many 2-Spirit elders around them that they’re inspired to start a “take an elder to ceremony” club! Elders, find ways to mentor. Native youth thrive when they have positive adult relationships.

2-Spirit ancestors were killed, imprisoned and sent to mental asylums to strategically destabilize Indigenous cultures in the Western Hemisphere beginning in the 15th century. We were hidden away by our families and communities to protect our medicine but like any secret, our existence became shameful or forgotten. Consider the inverse: why was it important to remove 2-Spirit influence for successful colonization? What is the tremendous potential for all when 2-Spirit medicine is called back, nurtured, and valued?

Let these words be a spark. Let them light you up. Start something. 

Miigwech | Thank you 

Penny Kagigebi 


Penny Kagigebi, “Twinning Rainbows Basket,” photo by TJ Turner. 


About Penny Kagigebi:

Penny Kagigebi (White Earth Ojibwe) describes herself as an advocate for joy and Mino-Bimaadiziwin, good life/health, through Ojibwe Culture and Arts. The youngest child of Susanna (Aandegoons Little Crow) Bellecourt Paulson and Pat Paulson, she was surrounded by makers and creators but grew up believing art wasn’t a “real job.” Following her son’s death in 2008 and through traditional art forms, she worked to create gifts for his ceremonies and fell into a portal for healing and cultural reclamation. In 2014 she achieved her goal of learning quillwork and quill box construction from Ojibwe artist Melvin Losh.

A QUEER2-Spirit artist, Penny sees a direct relationship between the contemporary basketry she makes, community conversation, and QUEER2-Spirit cultural reclamation. An unusual application of machine-sewn ribbon-on-birchbark, seed beads, and quillwork-over-ribbon reflects freedom in her basketry which is mirrored in a commitment to teaching in a way that allows others to be fully themselves. So, too, she advocates that our tribal communities will regain balance and vibrancy when QUEER2-Spirit citizens thrive and our gifts flourish – understanding that nothing is ever really lost, everything needed has been left for us and in us.



StrongHearts Native Helpline 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) is a safe, anonymous, and confidential domestic and sexual violence helpline for Native Americans and Alaska Natives, offering culturally-appropriate support and advocacy.



The Trevor Project. Trained counselors understand the challenges LGBTQ young people face and are available for support 24/7. They will listen without judgment. When text, chat, or call, all of your conversations are confidential, and you can share as much or as little as you’d like.


Dr. Melissa Walls – The Power of Positive Childhood Experiences


Words from traditional culture bearer: Obizaan Lee Staples


Beautiful work – need more of this:  My Father’s Father’s Sister: Our Ancestor Shimkhin


Powerful teachers: Candy Palmater, Dr. Albert McLeod & Harlan Pruden


Contemporary knowledge: 2 Crees in a Pod with Prestin Thotin-awasis


Resources and Materials to Support Native and Indigenous LGBTQ Youth in U.S. Schools

Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute


2023 The Mental Health and Well-Being of Indigenous LGBTQ Young People. The Trevor Project.