Our staff consists of:
John R. Sylliboy - Executive Director
Suzanne Barry-Kroening - Gender Based Policy Coordinator
Jesse Sabattis - Policy & Research Ethics Coordinator
Naomi Bird - Education Consultant
Michael Denny - Education Consultant
Former staff include:
Kehisha Wilmot - Community Engagement Coordinator (NS & PEI, 2021–22)
Gage Perley - Community Engagement Coordinator (NB, 2021–22)
Evan Butler - Community Engagement Coordinator (NL, 2021–22)
Naomi Bird (they/them) is a Two-Spirit Nehiyaw person from Treaty Six Territory. They lived in Kjipuktuk while going to school at Dalhousie, and are now back in their territory working on a masters in land-based education. Naomi's research focuses include Two-Spiritness health and identity along with Indigenous trauma and resilience in post-secondary spaces. In their personal life, Naomi likes to bead, and can be found at the local climbing gym, advocating for Indigenous frontline resistances, or watching Netflix.
Suzanne is the Gender-Based Policy Coordinator with W2SA. She lives in St. George’s, a small town on the west coast of Newfoundland. Suzanne identifies as a Mi’kmaq Two-Spirit person and is a mother and grandmother. She recently completed her Master of Social Work while raising her two grandchildren.
Jesse Brandon Sabattis
Jesse Brandon Sabattis is a two spirited Wolastoqey man (he/him/we) living in Pilick, Wolastoquk (Kingsclear First Nation, New Brunswick). Jesse joins our team as the Two-Spirit (2S) Policy and Research Ethics Coordinator and will respond to the needs of the 2S community based on community consultations in Wabanaki region. As the coordinator, he will continue to enhance the ongoing local and regional partnerships to build support for 2S people, emphasizing on policy, research, and knowledge translation.
Jesse has worked in local First Nation politics for 6 years as an elected councillor where he gained experience in policy development, community engagement and project work. He is an advocate for mental health, addictions support and equality. His passion for the well-being of others has been the foundation of his work. In 2018 he successfully opened a fitness centre in his community that provides a safe space to rebuild mental, emotional, and physical well-being by developing healthy habits into daily routine.
Jesse began working towards obtaining his Bachelor of Science in 2014 and has recently returned to University of New Brunswick as a part-time student to focus on Forest Management. His early teachings from Elders and knowledge-keepers instilled the importance of protecting Mother Earth for all her children at a young age. These teachings provided him with understanding that grew his connections to the land for food, medicine, and spirituality. As a kid, some of his favourite movies were Ferngully and The Land Before Time. The beauty and natural wonders of the world fascinate him. Jesse currently enjoys hiking, kayaking and is always out exploring new trails or waterways.
Jesse comes from the Bear and Crow clan and participates in ceremony identifying with both masculine and feminine energies. He is connected to the cultural teachings passed onto him from his elders and ancestors of the Wolastoqeyik, the people of the bountiful river. Also carrying Scottish lineage, Jesse creates an open and accepting space for all people, beings, and creatures of Mother Earth.
Michael (Mykel) Denny is a 2 spirit Education consultant from Eskasoni on Unamaki (“Cape Breton Island”) in beautiful Mikmawki. Mykel identifies with the pronouns Ne’km/They.
Currently starting their 4th year as an undergraduate in the Bachelors of Sciences honours program majoring in Biology with a focus on Chemistry. They are the president of the Cape Breton University Pre-Med Society since April 2022. Mykel aspires to study Medicine after completing their studies on Unamaki. They are the acting Health and wellness coordinator with the Eskasoni Pride board since 2019. Mykel has been involved with the Wabanaki Two Spirit Alliance since 2012 and has been taking an active role in knowledge sharing and Mental health awareness.
Along with their studies and work with the community Mykel also is the owner and operator of Mykel Denny Massage Therapy in Sydney Nova Scotia. Mykel began their journey as a massage therapist since 2014 and has had the pleasure of sharing their passion across Turtle Island working with Health Spas, rehabilitation clinics, and various multidisciplinary clinics. Their practice specializes in Clinical Massage Therapy, Ashiatsu Barefoot Massage Therapy and Thai massage and is dedicated to their focus and research on indigenous modalities of body work and medicine ceremonies. Alongside their practice Mykel also participates as an Ethics and disciplinary committee board member to the Massage Therapy Association of Nova Scotia and is part of the Cogswell development advisory board with the Halifax Regional Municipality.
John R. is L’nu (Mi’kmaq) from the Millbrook First Nation in Nova Scotia. John works in social and cultural development, health and education policy, and research and community development for Atlantic Indigenous communities, especially for Two-Spirits and Indigenous LGBTQ+.
Initiatives and Projects: John collaborates on regional and national projects in research, community development and youth leadership development in the Atlantic region and Canada. He is a researcher on the Aboriginal Children’s Hurt and Healing Initiative at the IWK Health Centre in Nova Scotia. He promotes Indigenous perspectives in health and research. He is also a Co-Principal Investigator with the Wabanaki-Labrador Health Research Network through the Network Environments for Indigenous Health Research (NEIHR).
Capacity Development and Consultancy: John is a consultant in First Nations educational governance, Two-Eyed Seeing approach in education and research, post-secondary education needs, and areas that impact the health and well-being and educational outcomes of the Mi’kmaq, Indigenous Peoples, and Two-Spirits. He has led initiatives for curriculum development and cultural safety training in post-secondary at Mount Saint Vincent, Dalhousie University and McGill University.
Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ Advocacy: John is a co-founder of the Wabanaki Two-Spirit Alliance (W2SA), which helps to build support and awareness on Two-Spirits in Mi’kma’ki and Canada.
In 1998, John attended his first “gathering” in San Jose, Costa Rica and realized the power of LGBTQ advocacy. However, it wasn’t until 2009 when his childhood community lost ten people to suicide, including 4 Two-Spirits that brought him into his new role as an advocate for Two-Spirits. He was working for a regional tribal organization in health promotions and policy. His experience in community engagement, social development and networking provided skills to lobby for funding to host a local gathering of Atlantic Two-Spirits in 2011.
He collaborated with his good friend and mentor, Tuma Young, to act. They founded the Wabanaki Two-Spirit Alliance and held The Liscombe Lodge Gathering to consolidate the Alliance. So, the Alliance was born, and so was John’s interest in Two-Spirit research and knowledge sharing.
Education and Two-Spirit Research: John participated in the Canada World Youth program in Costa Rica in 1990-91. The experience directly influenced him into community development and grass-roots engagement. He decided to go back to Costa Rica to do his Bach. in International Relations in 1994-1998.
In 2000, John moved to Washington, D.C., to work only to return to Costa Rica to work in education. He accepted a job in a publication company as the International Director of Service in 2002-2007. He developed leadership and capacity training for language instructors in Central America and Colombia until 2007.
John returned to Canada and back to Mi’kma’ki after 20 years of living outside the region. Eventually, he returned to school to do a master’s in education at Mount Saint Vincent University. His thesis was to conceptualize the concept of Two-Spirit using Mi’kmaw knowledge. He is currently in his doctoral studies at McGill University. He will research about gender, sexuality and sex, and the terms 2SLGBTQIA+ to build positive cultural identity through language revitalization to reflect the diversity of gender identities and sexualities of Mi’kmaq youth in a contemporary context.