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‘Recognition of Indigenous, queer youth vital’: Two-spirit musicians unite with Regina symphony

Cris Derksen, left, and Rebecca Benson, right, performed at RSO with a musical show consisting of both tunes and talks about their life as a two-spirit couple that works and lives together.
Cris Derksen, left, and Rebecca Benson, right, performed at RSO with a musical show consisting of both tunes and talks about their life as a two-spirit couple that works and lives together. Cris Derksen

The Buffalo Girls took the stage Saturday night in Regina but it wasn’t just about the music, it was about a two-spirit couple sharing life experiences, giving support to Indigenous, LGBTQ2 youth and inspiring them to keep going.

The group includes Cris Derksen, who is Cree from North Tallcree reserve in Alberta on Treaty Eight. She is a Juno-nominated cellist and composer and is also part Mennonite. She likes to call herself Cree-nno-nite.

Her wife Rebecca Benson is from Six Nations and is Tuscarora and Irish. She is on vocals along with Jesse Baird on the drums.

The trio performed at the Mâmawêyatitân Centre as part of Regina Symphony Orchestra’s 2022 festival theme: LGBTQ2S+ Living Out Loud

“I think it’s important to understand that Indigenous queer and trans youth and people have always been in our communities and they have always been creating art and music. It is absolutely vital that they receive recognition for this work, and that they’re given opportunities to showcase exceptional talent,” Derksen said.

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“It’s vital for Indigenous queer and trans youth growing up to see themselves in galleries, on stage, on film and in the spotlight.”

Cris Derksen, a Juno-nominated cellist and composer
Cris Derksen, a Juno-nominated cellist and composer. Cris Derksen

She said she really likes performing in spaces with a mix of crowds, including young Indigenous kids and so many queer youth who know and love music.

“It was definitely about relating to the crowd and feeling them hear new sounds and hear new things, it was a really beautiful experience,” Derksen said.

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They played a mix of unreleased and old classic songs. Derksen shared stories from her life with Benson and what it’s been like on the journey.

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She started playing the cello when she was 10 years old while growing up in Edmonton. Derksen said there was a public string program at the Edmonton public school that was affordable for her mom to pay for. She initially wanted to play double bass but it was too big to fit in her mom’s car so she went on with the cello.

“And for me, the journey has been, like, I just have not quit. I stuck through it through all the difficult times,” she said.

Derksen got a degree from UBC and started making a living for herself. She made a name for herself as an Indigenous improviser and an innovator in music.

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When asked what it means to be two-spirit, she said, “it is when you have the male and female inside of you.”

“I think it’s a really beautiful term and it really makes sense to me and to somebody who doesn’t really fit any normal binary gender,” she said. “Being two-spirited is just a word that encompasses who I am as a human.”

On being an aunty to the young in Indigenous arts communities Derksen said it’s been amazing to watch her friends’ babies grow up into wild teenagers and be part of a chosen family.

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“It keeps me grounded to have little guys around and watch them grow up to be part of their lives.”

Her message for Indigenous queer and trans youth: “Nerds win in the end. If you like something at a young age and you just stick to it, chances are you’re going to be able to do that for a living if you stick to it. And that’s another one: you got to stick to it. You can’t quit.”

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