Photo: Cami Carpenter (she/they) shares their story of identity and culture to celebrate Pride Month.

“For a really long time, I kind of struggled with that question. For me, I needed to identify with something. But I’ve been okay with being ‘me’. Being two-spirit is so powerful, it’s so sacred.”

Ogimaawabiitong (Kenora Chiefs Advisory) is honoured to introduce you to Cami Carpenter, who proudly represents Wabaseemoong Independent Nation and the 2SLGBTQIAP+ community.

In honour of Pride Month, and in the spirit of celebrating love, allyship, and diversity, Cami shared their story about being from mixed heritage, two-spirit, and their journey to finding inner peace with their identity through connecting with their culture and the land.

Q: Tell us about yourself, Cami. What do you like to do in your personal life?

I’m really passionate about my culture. So, reconnecting, getting out into the community, connecting with our Elders and knowledge keepers, my aunties, uncles and cousins, and just picking up as much as I can. Getting out onto the land is medicine to me. Connecting it with the spirit. I really like to harvest. I find so much medicine on the land.

Right now, I’m really into sewing – I’m learning how to make ribbon skirts, jingle dresses, medicine bags, that’s one my hobbies right now. I also like sports – hockey, mostly. Right now, I’m in baseball. That’s been fun. I also really like photography. It’s a way of storytelling for me.

Q: What kind of photography have you been interested in?

When I’m connecting with the land and when I’m out in the community, I take my camera with me because it’s a way of documenting and telling the story of reconnecting. I think it’s really important. When I’m able to share them, they hold so much in them. It’s almost like spirit in my pictures, which is really cool. And it’s showing my journey, which is really meaningful to me.

Q: You mentioned your journey. At this point in your life, what does your journey and your identity mean to you?

For a really long time, I kind of struggled with that question. For me, it was like I needed to identify with something. But I’ve been okay with just being ‘me’. Being two-spirit is so powerful, it’s so sacred. I’ve kind of gone away from needing to say, “who I am”. I’ve moved away from needing that title.

Growing up, especially in my teen years, I really needed a title to describe who I am and how I feel. But being two-spirit – it changes. Everyday I feel different. And I go through what’s like seasons. In our language, we didn’t have 2SLGBTQIAP+ traditionally – even two-spirit – there’s no direct translation.

But an elder shared a teaching with me. It’s called ‘Agookwe’ – The Invisible Woman. She either steps forward, or she steps back. That was one of the first times I felt like “Wow, that makes so much sense,” because it changes all the time.

Q:  And after learning that teaching, how did you bring that wisdom with you?

When I was trying to get into what my identity was, I was struggling with it. It was like fighting between femininity, masculinity, and feeling like I needed to choose. But inside of us, it’s balance. I weave between both of them. I’m not one or the other.

And I see how important that is for a community, the ability to weave people together. We’re healers. We have the ability to share love. And that’s so important. It’s the sacredness of our two-spirit people that weave our communities together. We have to do it all together.

Q:  Being from Wabaseemoong, how did being Indigenous play into developing your identity?

Being Anishinaabe is really powerful. I come from mixed ancestry – my mom is Ukranian, German, and Scottish – and my dad is Ojibwe from Wabaseemoong. Even what it means to be Anishinaabe, to be mixed blood, it’s that weaving between two worlds. There’s such a parallel between the two.

It’s no longer a fight. I thought I had to choose. White, Anishinaabe, Man, Woman – it’s not a fight. It’s a weaving together. It’s so sacred. I used to struggle with it, but I’ve let go. There’s a word for it. It’s called ‘Maanoo’. Which is ‘Let Be’. I’ve found so much peace in that – just letting it go, letting it be what it is. That’s something I’ve really struggled to find.

Q: Tell us about how you found that inner peace – I’m sure that wasn’t easy.

My teen years are when I struggled the most. That’s when I was coming to find my identity, my purpose, my gifts. I remember feeling broken. It was really just because I was so lost. Trying to navigate between the two worlds, being Anishinaabe, White, Man, Woman. I felt lost.

I remember showing up to a Medicine camp. I didn’t feel good. I didn’t feel happy. I remember sitting in a sharing circle and I just broke down – I cried, I could barely talk, and I just released all of that hurt I was carrying. I never felt like I belonged. When you’re navigating between two worlds, it feels like you don’t belong anywhere.

And when I came to that ceremony, I shared those feelings that I had. And I didn’t expect to feel so accepted. That was the first time I felt so free from that battle that I had been going through. My kookums, my uncles, my aunties – they held me and said they love would me no matter what you are. That was the first time that I felt like I belonged somewhere. They told me to follow my spirit and be who I am.

That was the first step towards following my spirit, ending that battle, and being what I am. Not having to choose. It was that sacred weaving between both. That was a pivotal moment. So, when I talk about identity now, I understand now. That’s who I am. I don’t have to label it. It’s a shift. When you follow your spirit, your being your truest self. It takes a lot of courage to do that.

Q:  How was your identity received by the rest of your family and friends?

I was really scared to tell people who I really was. Which is kind of funny now. Especially with your family and friends – the people who love you the most. But there’s so much fear in that. But when I told them – they were happy. They didn’t fully understand what that meant, but they were open to learning. That’s so important when it comes to healing.

I still do carry some feelings of being scared, sometimes. There are certain spaces where I don’t always feel comfortable. But I know that I’m following my spirit, and that I don’t have to hide that anymore. And when you’re following your spirit in a good way, the Creator knows that. The Creator will be there to support you.

Q:  And when you do feel uncomfortable, what do you do to feel support?

I always feel that love from everyone around me. When I’m in the community, I feel that community love. When I’m with my family, I always feel that love. When I’m on the land, I feel the love from the land.

When I need to feel love, I go sit at the trees, I go sit at the water, and I talk to the Creator. I leave my offerings, I speak to my ancestors, and I feel love. I know they’re always with me, guiding me and supporting me.

That’s why in those moments when I feel scared, I call for them. That’s how I’ve let go of that fear. The land will always be here. The land will always love me. That’s who I turn to.

Ogimaawabiitong would like to extend a heartfelt Miigwetch to Cami for sharing their story with us. You can find more on their journey below: