napêhkân to napêw

I am really trying to learn my language. My Grandpa was a fluent nêhiyawewin speaker, but didn’t teach his children when they were young. We all did learn like, the bare essentials though. Like awas (which means go away) and astum (which means come here) and other random words. He tried to teach me when I was younger. But anyway it’s been something I work on off and on.

I think part of having an Indigiqueer identity is trying to go back to my original language to find terms to refer to myself. When I came out as a trans man I was using the word napêhkân to refer to myself which means “looks and lives like a man.” But it’s one of those words where sort of context and deeper meaning is a bit unsure. Like was it a slur? But also it might not have been a slur at all.

But also as I’ve gotten more and more used to my lived experience as a man, I feel less and less like “looks and lives like a man” is an appropriate identifier for myself as a trans man. I’m not someone who goes around saying I don’t want to be referred to as trans. But somehow napêw (man in Plains Cree) matches me more these days than napêhkân.

I think also that Cree masculinity is a specific thing, so calling myself a napêw is more accurate to who I am than “looks and lives like a man.” Like there is a certain kind of softness and kindness that a lot of nêhiyaw men have, and I recognized that even before I began to identify fully as a man.

I know sometimes with intersectional identities like mine, people like you to rate your identities. Like it’s a very weird thing, like put them on a scale which is the identity with the most privilege vs the identity with the least privileged. Or which community shuns you more, Indigenous communities for being a queer, or queer communities for being Indigenous? It’s kinda nefarious. And also too binary thinking. I don’t like rating my communities like that.

Truth is more complicated than that. Mostly I have been supported by those communities I belong to. I think there is a racism problem in the Queer/Trans community and also a homophobia/transphobia problem in Indigenous communities. BUT I don’t find talking about those issues helpful in terms of trying to figure out which identity/community I favour more. I honestly like all the communities I belong to, even when they don’t all like me.

I’m still working on my intro. Artists are always doing intros on panels and stuff and most Indigenous artists have developed some kind of intro in their language. I don’t have one yet. I don’t even have a spirit name to be honest, or rather I DO but I don’t know it yet because I haven’t gone to a ceremony over it. But you’re not supposed to really tell anyone those names anyway (at least in the teachings I have gotten you don’t). BUT I could at least say my community and that I am a nêhiyaw napêw. But I guess I’m also aware that it’s a language only certain people understand, so I have a chance to say something profound for a very small audience. It’s very intimidating to try and think of a word!

I know there’s a word for filmmaker and I should probably look it up again. I’m taking a Cree class again and it’s time to finally work on a real introduction for myself in nêhiyawewin.

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