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Cochrane hopeful LGBTQ2+, Indigenous can ‘choose their destinies’

Angela Gismondi
Cochrane hopeful LGBTQ2+, Indigenous can ‘choose their destinies’
Garett Cochrane

As a gay Metis man in the Northwest Territories (N.W.T.), Garett Cochrane, community relations officer for the Giant Mine Remediation Project, shared his experience and insights on Indigenous abuse and LGBTQ2+ oppression in a recent one-on-one conversation.

In celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day, Pride and Indigenous History months, EllisDon hosted Northern Exposure: Life as a gay Métis in Northern Canada with Cochrane and Chris Reeves, EllisDon’s director of Indigenous relations.

Cochrane joined the industry because he believes projects such as the Giant Mine Remediation project are the future of the northern economy.

“I see the industry doing the work in offering careers for Indigenous, Inuit and Metis peoples,” said Cochrane.

“I’m proud to be on the ground floor in the renewal of an industry that takes reconciliation seriously and I’m also proud to play my part in its future.”

When asked if he faced any challenges, Cochrane said the industry has been welcoming and supportive.

“It’s hard to determine when you’re in a safe space that you can be your authentic self, and like many LGBTQ2+ I was on guard immediately and quite vague about my personal life,” Cochrane said.

“It’s frustrating that I still had my perceived perceptions of the construction industry based upon past stereotypes of the overt masculinity once associated with it, when in reality industry has evolved to a place where an LGBTQ2+ Metis is not only accepted, but valued for my culture and identity.”

Cochrane began the conversation with Reeves describing the relationship with his father, who worked in the mining industry.

“By the nature of what he has worked in all his life there is a certain machismo, one might even say toxic masculinity that he has kind of inherited,” he said.

“When I first came out he refused to admit it. He would refer to it as ‘the phase that I was in’ and then eventually he would refer to it as ‘the thing that I would do.’”

That was the mentality people had growing up in a mining town in the 1970s, Cochrane said.

“He has gotten to a point where he accepts me, loves me. I know he wants nothing but the best for me, but it is still a constant process for him to be able to understand something different,” explained Cochrane.

“Especially as a Metis family. You think it wouldn’t be such a difficult thing, but we are all byproducts of where we are from.”

Cochrane and Reeves also discussed residential schools and the link to homelessness. About 98 per cent of the homeless population in the community is Indigenous.

“If you have a conversation with any of them you will find out most of them are residential school survivors, so you are dealing with a highly traumatized population with very little programs to be able to assist them to get over the trauma,” Cochrane said.

Many LGBTQ+ individuals in the North hide who they are and some of them even get married.

“Another option that people take that is very common for people in the North is they will take their lives,” Cochrane said. “We have the second largest amount of suicide in this country and the only one that is larger than us is Nunavut. In places where you don’t have a lot of hope the way out seems like the best option to some.”

The recommendations from the truth and reconciliation committee and other legislation like it can help move the federation to a more unified future, Cochrane said.

“These are conversations that are going to be hard. They are already difficult from an Indigenous perspective,” he said. “We’d like to be able to get to that point where we can participate fully in our federation but that work is being done and I know a lot of people are committed to doing that work correctly.”

He said the country has come a long way from the days when they were debating legalizing same sex marriage in 2006.

“I am hopeful that we eventually come to a place where we get to choose our destinies as so many Indigenous and queer people have not really felt that way before,” Cochrane said.

Following Cochrane’s candid discussion, Reeves told the Daily Commercial News what he hoped those attending would takeaway from the event.

“The forum will encourage further discussions which will lead to a more inclusive EllisDon workplace culture to benefit all,” he said. “As a result of this discussion with Garett we have team members reaching out to suggest ideas to provide greater inclusion for equity seeking groups.”

Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.

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