A Mental Health Program Created For and By Indigenous 2S/LGBTQ+ Community
Samira Karsiem and Brittany Clark-Wakefield
July 11, 2023 • 7 Min Read
MindMapBC helps people find 2S/LGBTQ+ affirming mental health care. For Indigenous folks, finding affirming care that is also culturally relevant can be important as well. Nanki Nezulne (Our Two Spirits) is a program based at Carrier Sekani Family Services (CSFS) focused on 2S/LGBTQ+ health and wellness, supporting the 11 Membered Nations that CSFS serves and with community collaboration and governance. Nanki Nezulne services include:
- Individual counselling
- 2S/LGBTQ+ education for family and friends of 2S/LGBTQ+ folks, allies, and professionals who want to create more inclusive environments
- Community events that celebrate 2S/LGBTQ+ folks and promote inclusivity
Brittany Clark-Wakefield (she/her) is a Mental Health Clinician (B.A. PSYC, SOC) with Nanki Nezulne. We did a Q&A with Brittany to learn more about her work with Nanki Nezulne and CSFS.
Can you tell us more about CSFS and your role as a Mental Health Clinician?
Carrier Sekani Family Services is an Indigenous led, non-profit organization based in Northern British Columbia, that has been supporting Carrier and Sekani communities and its members for over 30 years. Culture, Two-Eyed Seeing, evidence-based practices, and holistic health and wellness approaches are the guiding principles of the organization’s services (legal justice, health, social, family) and service delivery.
I have spent the majority of my professional (6+ years) and academic career specializing, working with, and advocating for the 2S/LGBTQ+ community, and I am very fortunate to work with the Adult Mental Health and Wellness clinical team at CSFS. I primarily provide individual counselling services virtually (phone or video-conferencing) to people 18+.
The Nanki Nezulne program is a very small and effective team at CSFS, so some days I wear multiple hats which I absolutely love! In addition to individual counselling services, you can find me providing psychosocial educational workshops, training, and consultations about affirming 2S/LGBTQ+ care within Carrier Sekani Family Services, our communities, and/or with external community partners.
Since I wear multiple hats, I help to plan celebrations and events to connect with community members in a variety of ways. For some folx, I find that connecting with our team at community events or workshops can make counselling more approachable. Connecting in these ways also provides a space for folx to share lived experiences, and ask questions about 2S/LGBTQ+ related topics.
Can you share more, specifically about Nanki Nezulne?
We prioritize connection and collaboration with our community members and with healthcare providers. We recognized the need for additional supports, like affirming 2S/LGBTQ+ education, counselling, and inclusivity. Historically, a commonly shared experience among many 2S/LGBTQ+ identifying folx have been seeking acceptance and unity outside of our homes and communities. In search of this, many move to urban areas and find chosen family.
Nanki Nezulne was inspired by the desire to keep 2S/LGBTQ+ community members feeling safe and loved, in community, and on traditional and sacred land. Nanki Nezulne provides education and support to communities, families, and individuals to reduce biases of prejudice and discrimination.
The Dakelh program name, Nanki Nezulne, was chosen by community members to represent the intersectionality of Indigeneity, culture, gender, sexuality, and romantic and spiritual fluidity. Celebrating the Carrier and Sekani people with representation of language, and acknowledgment of precolonial identities was non-negotiable for us. The English translation “Our Two Spirits”, is one of many translations dependent on community dialect.
Indigenous self-governance for Nanki Nezulne is one of the program’s goals. Can you tell us more about this?
Nanki Nezulne was inspired by, and developed with and for Carrier and Sekani community members. So far, the process of self-governance of Nanki Nezulne has involved consultation and direction from knowledge holders, elders, organization leadership, and community members. We’ve also held several gatherings with community members and healthcare providers to collaborate on specific 2S/LGBTQ+ health and wellness services needed in their individual, unique communities.
At this time, self-governance for Nanki Nezulne consists of community members utilizing customized program services, then providing input and making decisions about the content and service delivery to best meet individual and community needs.
For example, the lack of visual representation and imagery of our people’s intersectional identities (i.e. Indigenous and 2S/LGBTQ+) inspired the Nanki Nezulne visual statement (see image below). Designed by Dakelh/Cree artist Lydia Prince, the visual statement encompasses cultural imagery of two spirits supporting and uplifting the 2S/LGBTQ+ community.
Counselling, educational services, as well as celebratory events would not occur if they were not prioritized or led by community members. Nanki Nezulne will continue to support individual Carrier and Sekani communities with the eventual takeover of its services as aligned with CSFS, and the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council’s objective of self-governance.
What does affirming care look like at Nanki Nezulne?
Affirming care at Nanki Nezulne is client-centered, and prioritizes respect. That is respect towards an individual’s identities, and encouragement of one’s self-concept, self-expression, and life and healthcare choices.
It can be demonstrated in many ways. A few examples include:
- using and respecting the names and pronouns a person identifies with;
- encouraging self-love and self-discovery;
- increasing representation and visibility through celebration; and
- challenging our own biases and socialization of gender and sexuality.
Affirming care can also look like supporting people with accessing affirming health care services (referrals, resources, peer support groups), supporting changes within institutions, and advocating for policy and legislation that reflect diversity, equity and inclusion.
How are 2S/LGBTQ+ clients supported in individual counselling at Nanki Nezulne?
At Nanki Nezulne, an individual’s 2S/LGBTQ+ identities do not need to be the focus of counselling dialogue and we don’t assume that one’s identities influence other mental health conditions. We take a client-centered and collaborative approach to determine the relevance of one’s identities to a person’s reason(s) for seeking counselling.
On the other hand, folx may be intentionally seeking counselling services to further understand and explore these identities, which is another way our counselling services can be utilized. My goal as the clinician is to create a safe space for 2S/LGBTQ+ folx to always feel respected, affirmed and never pathologized for being who they are.
We also know that feeling understood and supported by our loved ones and community is vital to our wellbeing. For this reason, our individual counselling services are also offered to parents, and family members of 2S/LGBTQ+ identifying folx. The intention of this service is to strengthenwrap-around support for 2S/LGBTQ+ people and to improve knowledge and understanding of 2S/LGBTQ+ related topics and affirmation of identities.
Who can access your services?
All counselling services provided by Nanki Nezulne are free and available to:
- Folx who self-identify as 2S/LGBTQ+ or individuals exploring their gender, sexuality, and/or romantic identities
- Parents of 2S/LGBTQ+ youth
- Family members of 2S/LGBTQ+ individuals e.g. siblings, partners, chosen family members, children etc.
- CSFS Community members and Indigenous BC residents*
To access services, you must be 18 or older and live in BC.
*CSFS Community Members and Indigenous BC residents receive first priority of accessing counselling services, however, non-Indigenous BC residents are also eligible to receive services.
How can people access your services?
Learn more about Nanki Nezulne by visiting their website or MindMapBC listing.
If you are interested in counselling services at Nanki Nezulne, please complete the referral form which can be found on the program website under “Referral Process.” Completed referral forms can be emailed to Brittany Clark-Wakefield at: email@example.com
If you are interested in other program services with Nanki Nezulne, you can contact program staff by phone or email–they are always happy to answer any questions you might have about the program. Staff contact information can be found below:
Brittany Clark-Wakefield (she/her) B.A. PSYC, SOC
Mental Health Clinician
About The Authors
Samira (she/her) is the Community Engagement Specialist at MindMapBC. She works with advisory group members to get feedback on MindMapBC activities and ensure that MindMap is relevant to community members. She is passionate about health equity and completed her Masters of Public Health at SFU.
Brittany (she/her) is a mental health professional, settler, and Queer-identifying woman. Brittany has spent the majority of her career specializing, working with, and advocating for the 2S/LGBTQ+ community. Brittany is also a member of the Development and Evaluation Advisory Group at MindMapBC.
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