Jack Saddleback explored identity and belonging in a presentation hosted on campus. His lecture captivated students and faculty alike while discussing topics that have rarely been addressed publicly at Mount Allison. Saddleback identifies as a proud two-spirit, transgender gay man from the Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, AB. In 2015, Saddleback, a sociology student at the University of Saskatchewan, became the first transgender president of the university’s students’ union.
Saddleback’s lecture, titled “There are No Closets in Tipis,” discussed Indigeneity, the importance of representation, and queerness. Saddleback also discussed his personal experience with severe depression and noted the importance of mental health structures and medical practices that incorporate cultural knowledge.
The Argosy sat down for an interview with Saddleback to further discuss these themes.
Jill MacIntyre: Was it a challenge for you, recognizing your own identities, then having to ‘come out’ to multiple communities?
Jack Saddleback: I had to come out so many times! I’m fortunate to have the family that I do – they are epic supporters. I was fearful of coming out, just like any other queer person would be. There’s always that fear of rejection, but when I came out as trans my grandmother said, “We don’t have anyone like you in our family but we want to help you.” To me, that’s the core value of First Nations cultures: loving and respecting each other as the unique individuals that we are.
JM: You’ve talked in the past about how colonialism was the site for transphobia and homophobia to develop in First Nations cultures. Could you speak to that?
JS: The interesting thing about transphobia and homophobia within First Nations culture is that it [was] introduced [by] colonialism and the residential school [system] that taught us very foreign ways and introduced the idea of the gender binary…And along those same lines, First Nations children were taught that marriage or love was to be between two sexes and [that] that was the only acceptable way, when in all actuality, love is love and that is what First Nations cultures were about. We need to renegotiate this because it was negotiated for us without our consent.
JM: What did it mean for you to be elected as the first trans and one of the only Indigenous presidents of your students’ union?
JS: I want to challenge the status quo, especially within leadership positions. I worried that people wouldn’t vote for me because I was too brown, too trans and too gay…when you can’t see yourself reflected in society you can’t imagine yourself in it. Breaking through those glass walls or sometimes concrete walls is so important. I’m hoping I was able to do that for some folks.
Saddleback plans to continue with his culturally based approach to mental health advocacy and with his efforts to indigenize Pride.