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Towtongie reignites controversy over two-spirited people’s acceptance in Inuit culture

A concerned Nunavummiuq is calling for a reprimand of MLA Cathy Towtongie after Towtongie again questioned whether people of all sexual orientations are accepted in Inuit society.

“As Inuit, we pride ourselves on being a tolerant, accepting people,” writes Anna Lambe, who expresses “extreme indignation” over MLA Cathy Towtongie questioning the status of two-spirited people in Inuit culture.
Benson Kua/Wikimedia Commons photo

Anna Lambe, a longtime resident of Iqaluit, wrote an open letter to the legislative assembly on Friday stating that to “invalidate the existence of two-spirited Inuit and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) folk is absolutely unacceptable and intolerable.”

Lambe was responding to comments Towtongie made in the House on Thursday. The Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA was speaking to a motion that denounced all forms of violence in Nunavut when she said, “I have read that two-spirited people is not the Inuit way of life. I believe in procreation and I believe that animals have babies and Inuit too, but I also believe if we don’t want violence in our community then we cannot just give it lip service, not just words.”

The motion, introduced by Family Services Minister Elisapee Sheutiapik, included LGBTQ2S+ people as needing protection from violence, Lambe pointed out in her letter. Towtongie, like the other MLAs who spoke against violence, was given a round of applause at the end of her speech. Lambe said any other politician who endorses Towtongie’s views is also deserving of censure.

“How this was not reprimanded the moment she concluded her statement shocks me,” Lambe wrote. “As Inuit, we pride ourselves on being a tolerant, accepting people… Cathy Towtongie does not speak for me as an Inuk in claiming two-spirit lives are not the Inuit way. Sexual fluidity and gender fluidity are parts of Inuit history that have been shamed, lost and only now are we again hearing stories of our ancestors that did not stigmatize gender and sexual identities… I strongly urge the legislative assembly of Nunavut to re-evaluate its values and beliefs in representing Nunavummiut in a fair and just manner.”

Towtongie was embroiled in a firestorm over the same issue in 2014 while president of land claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI). At that time, she questioned the role of same sex individuals within traditional Inuit culture. However, she later stated in an NTI news release that the organization promotes “an atmosphere of inclusivity, acceptance and tolerance.”