The Native chapter of PFLAG, America’s largest organization for families and allies of the LGBTI community, is breaking boundaries.
Two Spirit Powwow
Traditional Native Powwows typically divide male and female dancers. But at yesterday’s (9 March) first-ever LGBTI powwow, these conventions were changed.
‘I know how heteronormative it is,’ Sheila Lopez, founder of the Native PFLAG chapter, told AZ Central of traditional Powwows.
The Native chapter of PFLAG hosted their Two Spirit Powwow at Phoenix’s South Mountain Community College. At the event, the male and female categories were taken out and dancers were welcome to dance in whatever categories they wanted. This Powwow was designed to be a safe space for the Native LGBTI community.
‘You won’t be discriminated or harassed based on your identity,’ Lopez said. ‘You can be who you want to be, dress however you want to dress, and dance in whatever group you want to dance in.’
Lopez stated that both the rainbow Pride flag and the transgender flag were used in the grand entry of the Powwow, and individuals of those communities held the flags.
The event featured powwow dancers from across the country, free HIV testing, non-profit booths, and vendors selling traditional Native jewelry and food. The 2009 documentary Two Spirits played in the amphitheater.
The Native PFLAG chapter was founded in 2011. It is the only PFLAG chapter in the country to focus exclusively on Native Americans.
Two Spirit is a commonly used umbrella term for the Native LGBTI community. However, it does not define anyone’s sexual orientation and Native LGBTI people may not always identify with the label.
The Native PFLAG’s Powwow was modeled after ones hosted in San Francisco’s Bay Area by the Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits (BAAITS) organization. BAAITS hosts the largest Two Spirit Powwow in the country.
‘Traditionally, Native American two spirit people were male, female, and sometimes intersexed individuals who combined activities of both men and women with traits unique to their status as two spirit people,’ the Indian Health Service website states. ‘In most tribes, they were considered neither men nor women; they occupied a distinct, alternative gender status.’
‘Part of why we’re doing this is to celebrate LGBTQ people and create a space where we can heal,’ Lopez said. ‘Hopefully, they know that Native PFLAG is here to help [and] support them.’
According to Lopez, one of Native PFLAG’s goals is to bring back ‘positive traditional teaching of what it meant to be two spirit because we have lost that.’
Lopez hopes this event makes a positive impact on both Native and non-Native residents across the state of Arizona.
Two Spirit Dancer
26-year-old Jordan Waquiu was one of the event’s head dancers. She identifies as Two Spirit, and this was her first time dancing at a large LGBTI-focused event.
‘I want to show that even though we may be two spirit we also take pride in our traditional doings,’ she told AZ Central. ‘We’re still true to our roots. We just want to be accepted and not just tolerated.’
‘[Powwow] dancing is in all of us Natives. It’s something to be proud of,’ Waquiu stated.
For Waquiu, it is important to be a representative for the Two Spirit community. She hopes her participation will inspire other LGBTI Natives.
‘Hopefully, I can send a positive message to anyone still living on the reservation and show them that anything is possible,’ she said. ‘Help them understand that it’s all going to be ok in the end.’
For Lopez, Native PFLAG is a lot more than just fun events. She works with Native PFLAG to educate Native communities about the LGBTI community.
‘There are a lot of people in the Native community, unfortunately, don’t even know some of the terms,’ she said. ‘Our mission is to educate, advocate and support the community.’
Author: Rafaella Gunz
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