Kanien’kehá:ka teen shares ‘coming out’ journey with love and support from family

Everyone in Rowennakon Doxtater’s family carries a name in Kanien’kéha, or the Mohawk language.

It’s why it was important for the 14-year-old to keep the tradition alive when he began identifying as male earlier this year.

With the change of the prefix his name, which means “he speaks softly,” now reflects Doxtater’s pronouns. 

“Our names are very important in our culture,” said Doxtater.

“I didn’t want to get rid of it and name myself something else. It’s good that our language can do that and change the gender of the name.”

Doxtater first came out as non-binary to his mom Kahente Horn-Miller, and then later said being male is what “stuck” and felt right.

Horn-Miller expressed her love and support for her son on Facebook earlier this month.

Rowennakon Doxtater and his mother Kahente Horn-Miller. (Submitted by Kahente Horn-Miller)

“It being Pride month, I took the opportunity to let everyone know how proud I am of him and that he’s so young and he can be supported in expressing himself as he feels he is,” said Horn-Miller.

For Doxtater, it brought a sense of relief. He wants other Indigenous youth to know they’re not alone. 

“It might be a little hard to come out. You don’t have to come out right now,” he said.

“I knew because I was exposed to this stuff and had some time to think . . . . Just know, If you’re struggling, there’s people that will support you in many ways.”

‘Being a good example as a family’

The family is from Kahnawake, a Kanien’kehá:ka community south of Montreal, and currently lives in Ottawa. The last few months have been a learning journey for everyone, said Horn-Miller.

She said she’s encouraged how far her community has come at accepting gender diversity but acknowledged work still needs to be done.  

“It’ll come in time, and I think this is a start by being a good example as a family for others,” said Horn-Miller.

Rowennakon Doxtater, from Kahnawake, began identifying as male earlier this year. (Submitted by Kahente Horn-Miller)

Doxtater echoed similar sentiments, emphasizing how gender diversity was not culturally considered taboo by the Kanien’kehá:ka.

“As a culture, we’re not afraid of this kind of stuff,” he said.

“I’m pretty sure this has been existing for years in our community and we just accept them. We probably weren’t afraid to let our real selves show as we are now.”

Traditionally ‘open and accepting’

Traditional Kanien’kehá:ka views toward gender and sexuality have been impacted by colonization and Christianity, said Kanonhsyonne Janice Hill, a clan mother in Tyendinaga, a Kanien’kehá:ka community near Kingston, Ont. 

“People forget our way is really an open and accepting way, that we’re human beings above all else and we come with gifts,” said Hill.

Hill is working on her master of arts in gender studies at Queen’s University, with her research exploring gender identity, roles and responsibilities in the longhouse — the political and spiritual institution of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. 

Kanonhsyonne Janice Hill is a clan mother from Tyendinaga. (Submitted by Janice Hill)

She said dialogue is needed for communities to be more welcoming for community members on the LGBTQ spectrum. 

“People are afraid of things they don’t understand, so that ignorance promotes fear,” she said.

“If we educate people and remind people that historically, traditionally, and culturally, this is our way — we are accepting of each other, they’re our family, our clan people, and this is who they are as human beings — I think that will help.”

For Doxtater, it boils down to showing support to youth like himself.

“Help them and let them know that they are still loved, even if they are trans or non binary or gay,” he said.

“There’s a lot more people celebrating who they are during this month. For Indigenous History Month, that’s good as well. So being from both parties, it’s great.”

This story is a part of a series celebrating gender and sexual diversity in Indigenous communities.

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