You might think that “coming out” as a two-spirit person in a small northern mining city like Thompson would be a scary or negative experience and likely not well-perceived. However, for Harlie Pruder, chairperson of Pride North of 55, the opposite couldn’t be more true. Harlie admits the road wasn’t always easy but today she describes her hometown as a “very diverse and super accepting place.”
Harlie was born and raised in Thompson and growing up she attended a small, tight-knit and very conservative Christian church. The beliefs of this church originated hundreds of years ago, and like a lot of other churches, in today’s world those beliefs now seem unrealistic and old-fashioned. Growing up in a male-dominated church like that, sexually confused and being taught that homosexuaity is wrong, Harlie had a very hard time.
She states that growing up she always felt different. As a young child she didn’t have the awareness to realize that she was not meant for a heterosexual path but can clearly see it now in retrospect. She remembers as a small child feeling like a tomboy and, with short, fine hair was often mistaken for a boy. This bothered her and she tried to reverse that by going through a phase she describes as “hyperfemininity.”
At age 12 she experienced her first romantic encounter with another girl and beginning at age 14 she was involved (secretly) with another girl from her church. That relationship spanned a few years and eventually ended when a church supervisor called her out for it and insisted it be stopped.
The years between her first same sex experience as a teen and where she sits now, more aware and more comfortable with her sexual orientation, were not easy ones. Harlie was confused not only about her gender identity but also her cultural identity. Her ancestors were a mixture of German, Finnish and Métis cultures. Harlie stated that growing up she struggled with always feeling “not Indigenous enough to be called Indigenous” as a Métis person. So this confusion, along with her sexual orientation in question, coupled with all of the beliefs of the church knocking around inside her head, led to some internal struggles. After experiencing “traditional” heterosexual, monogamous relationships, she was able to realize that was not right for her and began to accept herself more as a queer two-spirit person.
An encounter with an individual downtown while handing out bottles of water to vulnerable persons provided a sort of awakening and clarity for Harlie. The simple statement made to her from this individual who was grateful for the water – “two-spirits helping two-spirits” – reaffirmed how she already felt inside but hadn’t yet had the confidence to own as part of who she was.
“Two-spirit” refers to a person who identifies as having both masculine and feminine spirit and is used as an umbrella term in Indigenous culture to describe a wide variety of gender identities. Two-spirit individuals may identify (in Western culture) as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transexual, transgender, queer, crossdressers or multiple gender identities. For Harlie, on that day, being referred to as “two-spirit” by someone who already owned that same identity, it was like coming home.
Harlie describes herself as a very spiritual person and looks to the lessons of her ancestors for guidance and healing. She feels she can be a leader to others and hopes to help people on the most vulnerable levels and bring a different perspective on things. She believes in land-based spirituality and has been involved with a national organization called 2 Spirits In Motion. She meets with them via Zoom (because COVID) and they use medicines such as sage, sweetgrass, tobacco and cedar in their practice.
As far as the future of the LGBTQ and two-spirit movements here in Thompson, Harlie sees no end in sight and only positivity up ahead. She hopes for more “queer infused” social outings where members of the LGBTQ and two-spirit community can feel safe to be themselves. Harlie envisions Thompson as being a place where no matter what your sexual or relationship preference is, you will be welcomed and supported here. She states right now is a “good time” to be two-spirit here in Thompson, as we do have a large Indigenous population. In the future, she hopes to seek out and learn from the experiences of two-spirit elders, and she wants to be able to offer support for the older generations of two-spirit and Indigiqueer people who were not allowed to be themselves freely the way she can be today. “My goal is to help connect Northern two-spirit and Indigiqueer people so we can more easily advocate for our needs, offer support to one another and learn from each other generationally.”
For more information or to find resources and support in Thompson, Harlie encourages people to check out the Pride North of 55 page on Facebook. As well, she started a private group on Facebook called Thompson Two Spirit which is open to new members who can request to join via the main Pride North of 55 Facebook page. She also names Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, Klinic, Rainbow Resource Centre and Two-Spirited People of Manitoba in Winnipeg as great sources of info/support.