'A minority within a minority': A peek inside Ottawa's 2-spirit ball
Unique event celebrates Ottawa's 2SLGBT Indigenous community
Levi Foy flips his long blond hair over his brightly coloured poncho and red bell-bottom pantsuit as he twirls onto the stage to the sounds of the disco hit Boogie Oogie Oogie.
The Indigenous performer, originally from Couchiching First Nation in northern Ontario, goes by the name Prairie Sky while on stage with the Bannock Babes.
The Winnipeg-based "indigi-drag" group was among the artists performing last weekend at what's been billed as Ottawa's first two-spirit ball, an event celebrating the city's 2SLGBT (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Indigenous community.
For Foy, it was a unique experience.
"It's just Indigenous people and a feeling in my heart and soul and really breathing all of that energy and taking that to another level I never thought I could experience," he said.
Howard Adler organized the ball as part of the Asinabka Film and Media Festival. He discovered the term "two-spirit" when he was in his 20s, and felt it fit who he was.
"Two-spirit is a word invented and created by Indigenous peoples in the English language to reflect the diversity of Indigenous people. Because they didn't like these English words [like LGBT], they didn't really resonate with them. Two-spirit is the umbrella term to say that we know who we are, and we're going to honour that and respect it."
For Foy, the term is also political.
"Two-spirit also relates back to our experiences through colonisation, because two-spirit people were the first to be forcibly removed from communities. When we went to residential schools, two-spirit children weren't allowed to be in the same room as others."
A space of their own
The two-spirit community Ottawa is still relatively small, according to Adler, who called it a "minority within a minority."
For event co-host Sharp Dopler, who identifies as two-spirit, that can be tough.
I've not flown under the radar since I kicked the door off the closet!- Sharp Dopler, a.k.a. 'Alik Beavers'
"When the intersection of being queer and being Indigenous hits it can be brutal. I'm lucky I've got white privilege. My mother was Irish so I can pass. But I choose not to. Well, I can't really pass as anything but queer. It's kind of like putting a pig in a dress," Dopler joked.
Dopler, who goes by the stage name Alik Beavers on stage, says Ottawa's two-spirit community is on the rise.
"We're present and we've been pushing the community to be more open and accepting. But we don't have a space of our own, so we're kind of everywhere. Some of us are flying under the radar. Not like me — I've not flown under the radar since I kicked the door off the closet!"
Organizers worked to include a diverse range of artists, from a Maori "voguing group" to a Cree transgender pop singer, alongside a number of local drag queens on the bill.
Adler said his goal was to give the community some self-confidence. The positive reaction means plans are in the works for a similar event, possibly next year.
Foy has hopes the event will continue to grow.
"We're so proud and thrilled to be here. But it would be an honour, five years from now, to see four other girls down here in our places who have earned the right to do that and who can continue to represent our peoples."