Nova Scotia·Eskasoni Community Bureau

Mi'kmaw two-spirit advocates call for powwow inclusivity

Some Mi'kmaw two-spirit advocates would like to see powwow organizers across the country make events more inclusive by acknowledging two-spirits as being welcomed into these spaces.

Powwow outfits are usually defined by gender and competitions often have only men's and women's categories

Two-spirit advocates in Cape Breton say small changes could make powwows more inclusive for people who are gender fluid. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

This story is part of a series from CBC's Eskasoni Community Bureau. This series comes from weeks of conversations with community members about what they feel is important to see, hear and read on CBC's platforms.

Jay Denny wasn't sure what type of ceremonial dress would be appropriate for this weekend's community powwow in Eskasoni, N.S.

But the 21-year-old eventually settled on a buttoned-down shirt coupled with a ribbon skirt.

The two-spirit activist says Canadian powwows are often defined by male and female outfits and competitions, but not everyone fits into either category.

"Some two-spirits don't feel comfortable [donning] women's regalia or men's regalia," said Denny.

She works as a two-spirit community educator for the non-profit Cape Breton Youth Project.

She defines two-spirit as an Indigenous person who bridges the gap between male and female. Being two-spirit is not only sexuality or gender identity, but is limited to Indigenous people through their cultural and spiritual identity.

Jay Denny is a two-spirit community educator for the non-profit Cape Breton Youth Project. (Submitted by Jay Denny)

Although two-spirits were long revered by the Mi'kmaq as "warriors of love," Denny said the influence of Canada's white majority means the concept was lost over time.

"A lot of our traditions and our ideals were muddied when colonization and residential schools happened.  We got a lot of instilled, internalized homophobia," she said.

Denny said although Eskasoni doesn't advertise it, two-spirit competitors will be offered gender fluidity as organizers accept blended styles of dress and entrance into either men's or women's competitions.

Denny would like to see powwow organizers across the country make events more inclusive by acknowledging two-spirits as being welcomed into these spaces.

"It makes all the difference, honestly, just these tiny acts of allyship," Denny said.

How to make powwows more inclusive

"Even just taking 'men' and 'women' out of the categories ... it makes it so that we don't feel othered. It makes us so that we don't feel out of place. And it's such a small change that'll help with so many different people."

Ceilidh Isadore is a two-spirit artist who grew up in Wagmatcook, N.S., and Ottawa.

They say a lot of work is underway to broaden gender inclusively at various Indigenous events, including powwows.

"I've seen two-spirit people ... really push this narrative that we deserve to be in any category or any spaces, the way that we want to be," they said.

Both Denny and Isadore say that one way organizers can help is by simply acknowledging and welcoming two-spirit people on their posters and flyers.

(CBC Communications)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erin Pottie

Reporter

Erin Pottie is a CBC reporter based in Sydney. She has been covering local news in Cape Breton for 15 years. Story ideas welcome at erin.pottie@cbc.ca.

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