Jarret Leaman (he/him) has dedicated a lot of time and effort to find not only professional success but also happiness for himself and his community. He’s worked hard to attain a Bachelor of Business Administration with a minor in Indigenous Studies from Trent University, a Master’s degree in Industrial Relations through the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University, and he’s also won awards for his work with the 2SLGBTQ+ Indigenous community.
He received The Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers from the Governor-General, on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, and he was named one of Huffington Post’s Top 3 Indigenous Millenials in Canada. These impressive accomplishments didn’t come easy to Jarret though – like all of us, he had a unique journey to proudly claim his identity.
Recovering His Heritage
Jarret describes his identity as one that holds a valuable place in many Indigenous communities. More than just a sexual orientation, Two-Spirit folks have a spiritual aspect to their roles in the community as well. Unfortunately, as part of the Sixties Scoop, Jarret’s father was taken from his home at a very young age and adopted by a white Christian family. This meant Jarret and his father were cut off from their Indigenous culture, and he didn’t learn about the role he could be playing as a mediator and leader until later in his life.
Growing up disconnected from his Indigenous roots, Jarret says he knew at a young age that he wasn’t straight. Conflicted by his lack of certainty about his identity, Jarret decided in high school that he would just avoid sex and dating until he was done with his post-secondary education. During this time, Jarret achieved great things that put him on a path to success; however, he also believes that his struggles with mental health issues such as depression and eating disorders most likely stemmed from the urge to suppress who he was at the time. While attending Trent University, however, Jarret finally met a Knowledge Keeper who helped him figure out who he really was.
Owning His Identity
Trent is a university known for the way they incorporate Indigenous learning into their programs. Jarret’s Minor in Indigenous Studies, for example, has a focus on Indigenous Economic Development. He was happy to find a place there and even happier to find himself.
As part of his Indigenous Learning, they would do regular lessons in a traditional Indigenous style in Teepees or Sweat Lodges, and sometimes even broken up by genders because men and women would traditionally learn different lessons. It was in one of these traditional lessons that Jarret was asked by the Knowledge Keeper whether he would like to join the men’s or women’s lesson that week. He had never been asked a question like that before and it was the first time he realized that there were folks out there who could see something in him that he’d been choosing to deny. After accepting his Two-Spirit identity, Jarret says in his own words, “You can’t get away from the role the creator has created for you.”
He learned that traditionally, Two-Spirit individuals are known to be mediators. By possessing both male and female spirits, these folks are able to know and understand both the masculine and feminine sides of issues, and this knowledge and experience are valuable to the community. Jarret says that this is a role he often finds himself falling into naturally, first in the business world and later in his work at his own company The Akawe Agency, where he works with Indigenous talent in the entertainment industry.
Supporting His Community
Not all Indigenous communities hold valued places for Two-Spirit folks. Jarret explains that some have lost the concept as a result of colonization, but he’s found a large and supportive Indigenous community in Toronto, where he’s lived for many years. As the Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Akawe Technologies, and also the Founder of the Centre for Indigenous Innovation and Technology, Jarret has been making space for Indigenous communities to grow and thrive in the tech industry.
He saw a need to support his community members and took action, creating an example of how to be a strong community leader. If you have an idea to help those you love, we encourage you to follow the lead of folks like Jarret. If you see a need, don’t be afraid to jump into action and create change.
Watch our conversations with Jarret below!