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Assembly of First Nations condemns N.B. and Sask. school pronoun policies

Joanna Bernard, interim national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said in a news release the pronoun policies in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan put 2SLGBTQ students at risk of being involuntarily outed at home or misgendered at school.  (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press - image credit)
Joanna Bernard, interim national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said in a news release the pronoun policies in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan put 2SLGBTQ students at risk of being involuntarily outed at home or misgendered at school. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press - image credit)

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is condemning policies in both New Brunswick and Saskatchewan that require parental consent for students under 16 to change their pronouns and names at school.

The AFN, a national advocacy organization for First Nations across Canada, said the policies violate basic human rights and put two-spirit and LGTBQ youth at risk of being involuntarily outed at home or misgendered at school.

In a news release, AFN interim National Chief Joanna Bernard said First Nations in Canada have a rich history of honouring 2SLGBTQ people.

"This policy conflicts with our cultural norms and does not align with the principles of self-determination and identity that are vital to the health and well-being of First Nations in Canada," she said in the release.

Tyler George, who is Cree from Ochapowace Nation and the Saskatchewan representative for the AFN's 2SLGBTQQIA+ Council, said the policies go against his nation's principles of inclusion.

"I think about the the suicide rates that we have, in my life experiences as a two-spirit individual, having conversations with others and how challenging it is already to live in a country that is transphobic and homophobic," George said.

Tyler George, centre, holding up a flag of his home community, Ochapowace Nation.
Tyler George, centre, holding up a flag of his home community, Ochapowace Nation.

Tyler George, centre, holds up a flag of his home community, Ochapowace Nation in Saskatchewan. (submitted by Tyler George)

According to a 2022 report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, transgender adolescents showed five times the risk of suicidal ideation and 7.6 times the risk of suicide attempt compared to cisgender heterosexual adolescents.

George said growing up, he experienced an open and caring family who never made him feel different but that not everyone has that.

George said his community is making policies to support community members, such as more gender neutral bathrooms and trying to use gender neutral language, but it's the kids going to school off reserve he's worried about.

"It's hard not to take an emotional stance on it when you are one that has these safety and diversity challenges," said George.

He also said Saskatchewan failed to consult with First Nations in the province before implementing the pronoun policy.

Both the AFN and its 2SLGBTQQIA+ Council are calling for a repeal of the policies, and a formal apology from the governments of Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Education said in an email it remained committed to the policy and that the policy was about involving parents in their child's education.

"In situations where it is reasonably expected that gaining parental consent could result in physical, mental or emotional harm to the student, the student will be directed to the appropriate school professional for support," wrote spokesperson Paige Kashmere in the email.

"They will work with the student to develop a plan to speak with their parents when they are ready to do so."

The New Brunswick Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment by time of publishing.