Nova Scotia

Membertou First Nation connects with Pride Cape Breton on deeper level

As Pride Cape Breton winds down, some people on the Membertou First Nation say the community's large presence in the festivities is a natural fit.

'As traditional people we know how it feels to go underground and have our ceremonies hidden,' says Jeff Ward

Membertou Heritage Park manager Jeff Ward, Coun. Gail Christmas and Andrea Dennis proudly show off some Pride-themed flags. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

As Pride Cape Breton winds down, some people on the Membertou First Nation say the community's large presence in the festivities is a natural fit.

This year, Membertou hosted the popular drag queen bingo event, the Membertou pedway was lit up in Pride colours, the flags at the Membertou Heritage Park were swapped for LGBTQ flags and there was a Membertou float in the Pride parade.

Jeff Ward, manager of the heritage park, said participating in Pride events is something the community connects with.

"As traditional people, we know how it feels to go underground and have our ceremonies hidden," he said, pointing to how revisions in the Indian Act in 1951 removed a ban on ceremonies.

A personal connection

Andrea Dennis works at the heritage park. She said staff secured two-spirit flags for the first time and people have been snapping them up.

Two-spirit is a term sometimes used by Indigenous people to describe gay, lesbian, transgender or non-binary people. The flag has two feathers on top of the traditional rainbow pattern.

Dennis said her brother, who is dead, was two-spirit. She said when he first came out, he was harassed. Her brother moved to Toronto, but he was still harassed.

She believes things have changed for the better.

"His spirit is still alive in me," said Dennis. "Even going to a Pride parade reminds me of him, it's like he's still there."

Spreading love

Membertou Coun. Gail Christmas said she first walked in the parade in Sydney three years ago.

Members of her community and family wore shirts to support her. Each shirt was customized for each family member or friend and had messages such as "I love my gay moms" or "I love my gay daughter."

"It's just be you and be proud of who you are and spread love along the way," she said.

Christmas and Ward would like to see upcoming Pride Cape Breton festivals expanded to include a LGBTQ conference and concerts held in Membertou.

Dennis is also planning for the future. She wants to make Membertou's parade float bigger and is looking at sewing rainbow regalia for the occasion.

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