Updated: Nov 22, 2020
It doesn’t really get that dark at night, as the bright full moon provides enough light that
you can find your way to the outhouse - but we sleep. Like in the city, where the sounds of traffic increasing signals that morning is near, here it’s the sound of rocks being placed in the fire. he growing crackling of the fire tells the dancers that the Sundance chief will soon sing the water song to awaken the dancers.
Today will be a special day, not just because it’s the first morning we load our chanupa and enter the arbour to start our four-day ceremony.
Today I will load a new pipe, a male pipe- chanupa. I’m given a men’s skirt and eagle feathers to stand pointing up for my sage crown. The Sundance chief “Joe” asked me to dance
on the men’s side on tree day and I agreed to do this. I did not expect this to happen, it didn’t even cross my mind. The nine-hour drive from Winnipeg the day before tree day, I had no concerns about which side I would dance on. I had packed my women’s pipe, the frock I had worn the past two years, the eagle feather that would hang from the sage crown and my eagle whistle.
As a person who has been gendered female since birth, it was an honour to be asked to dance with the men that day.
Now I had always admired Nee-gon-we-way-
we-dun (the thunder before the storm) or Clyde Bellecourt and the American Indian Movement for their work regarding civil rights and Indigenous rights. But I don’t recall hearing them discuss the topics of gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, Two-Spirit and queer identities.
In 2008, I had attended the International Two- Spirit Gathering hosted by the Minnesota Two- Spirit volunteers at the Audubon Centre of the Northwoods, near Sandstone, Minnesota. Nee- gon-we-way-we-dun had come to speak along with his assembly of people. I’ll never forget how they pulled up in their big long black cars; I thought the secret service or mafia had arrived. He had quite a presence and spoke with much passion and he supported us.
Where I came from, an “elder” had told me “you could never be Midewiwin, they don’t allow gay people in.” So I decide to approach Clyde, as he was Midewiwin, and ask whether this statement told to me by this “elder” was true or not. He asked me, “Who told you this? This is not true, not true at all. If you ever come to my lodge you will be welcomed.”
So there I was eight years later dancing at the 26th Annual Gathering of the Sacred Pipes Sundance hosted by the American Indian Movement in Pipestone, Minnesota. Everyone was there to dance for their own reasons. I was
there for three reasons. First, I was there partly for myself, my own personal battles and prayers.
Second, as a Buffalo Dancer, I dance to fight
the suicide spirit that plagues many Indigenous nations, and particularly Two-Spirit people. Many Two-Spirits have been pushed out or denied by their communities. No space is provided for them. Most Two-Spirit people know that homophobia is alive and well in some of our communities. For those that leave their communities and seek refuge in big cities, they quickly encounter new oppressive factors: racism, classism and sexism, etc. Although I had created and founded the Two Spirited People
of Manitoba, I knew there was much more work that needed to be done. It would require Two- Spirit individuals to enter and find a place in the Sundance ceremony.
The third reason I chose to dance the Sundance was to show that there is space in ceremony for Two-Spirit people.
All Two-Spirit people need to do is step in and take their place. They will be welcomed.
But it didn’t start there in Pipestone. A month earlier, I had danced at the Sprucewoods Sundance hosted by the Blacksmith family in the Spruce Woods Provincial Park located in south central Manitoba, Canada. It was my fourth year and I was asked if I would like to dance with the men. I gladly accepted. This invitation had been offered months prior to the ceremony. The year prior we had had a meeting to discuss Two Spirit people’s place in Sundance. Of course, they were welcomed to dance, but where they would dance required some thought. The Sundance Chief David Blacksmith shared his dream and knowledge of the three fires. The first fire was green for the women, the second fire past the green fire was blue for the men and beyond that fire was an orange fire, it was for the Two-Spirit people. In preparing my regalia for Sundance,
I wore mostly orange with a green and blue checked semi-frock with an applique of the three fires-green, blue and orange on the front and back. If there were any Two-Spirits in the crowd of supporters or helpers, they were sure to have seen me out of the hundred and thirty dancers.
It can be a challenge to learn about Two-Spirit roles and responsibilities when there’s no one around to ask. I believe that one of the best ways to start is by participating in ceremonies. You will never find much of what is taught in ceremony on the internet or in libraries - and personally, connecting with elders that have been in ceremonies and who are willing to share and discuss the teachings and ceremonies has worked best anyhow.
Dancing with the men was not harder than dancing with the women had been the previous year. We were all out there in the arbour for the same length of time. I was still concerned about feeling the tops of my feet getting sun burned, the itchiness of the jigger bites, and the fear of piercing. Yes, the women smell better, fart less, don’t dry heave and hug more - but we all sacrifice on behalf of the community and together we pray for healing.
The last entry into the arbour we collect our pipes and exit the east door, walk by the drum group at the south door and shake the hands of the supports as we make our way around to the west end of the arbour. One last sweat and we are done. Gatorade and watermelon for the dancers. Before we leave the arbour
we pick out pieces of pipestone laid out in the arbor between the pray sticks. Then the pray sticks are taken by the dancers, supporters and helpers. Down towards the kitchen, Clyde addresses the dancers with pride. We pray and the feast begins - pickerel or walleye, chicken, beef, wild rice, potatoes, corn, stew, gravy, watermelon, fruit, juice, water, cake and bannock.
I hope that next year other Two-Spirit people will come and dance either at the Sprucewoods Sundance in Canada or the Gathering of the Sacred Pipes Sundance in the USA.
Two Headed Eagle