Ward tastawiyiniwak: the in-between peopleTASS-TAW-WIN-EE-WOK

The name tastawiyiniwak is the nêhiyawak (Cree) term referring to the LGBTQ2S+ community.  Its rough English translation is “in-between people.”

Through ceremony, the Elder was given this name for the new ward in north Edmonton.

Elders stressed the importance of honouring tastawiyiniwak people in the ward’s name even though they are not geographically limited. The hope is that the name will promote conversation about gender and sexuality, and provide an opportunity to reflect on how all people can be supported and uplifted. 

As well, the name is a reminder of the violence that tastawiyiniwak people face to this day. 

Cree heritage does not have a binary view of gender, or of traditionally associated gender roles. In fact, the Cree worldview recognized eight genders, and each had their own role to play in the betterment of their community. 

“Men” and “women” share responsibilities, whether it be hunting or housekeeping. No role is above any other, as the Cree believe all people are unified by a single ahcahk (spirit). Members of Cree society could choose where they belonged, what responsibilities they bore to their community, and were free to move between roles as they wished. This is the origin of the term tastawiyiniwak, or “in-between people.”

It is difficult to exactly translate the different Cree terms for gender. iskwêhkân translates closely to “one who lives/acts like a woman,” whereas nâpêhkân translates closely to “one who lives/acts like a man.” But these translations greatly narrow the true meaning of these terms. Difficulties in translations also arise in the “kân” suffix, which translates to “fake” in English. These translations pose a barrier to trans men and women. As Arielle Twist, a nêhiyaw trans woman writer and artist writes, “…translations to English are rooted in a colonial way of thinking —a way of thinking rooted in white supremacy and cis-heteronormative framework of gender binaries.” 

The LGBTQ2S+ community has experienced tremendous violence, especially in communities of colour. The tastawiyiniwak ward will forever be a reminder of the trauma they have endured, and a call to create a brighter, more equal future for the LGBTQ2S+ community.