The president of B.C.'s Kamloopa Powwow Society says it's making substantive changes to the event, in collaboration with local Indigenous 2SLGBT+ organizations, after social media outcry last week over gender and blood ancestry rules.
Delyla Daniels, president of the society, told CBC News the society is immediately removing language that stated powwow dancers must have at "least one-quarter Native blood," perform in full regalia, and "be in the correct gender for the category."
It is also adding a switch dance special — allowing anyone to dance a traditional powwow dance regardless of gender — and committing to hosting an annual two-spirit round dance. In addition, all self-identified Indigenous people are now welcome at the powwow.
The society faced online backlash last week from many people including two-spirited Indigenous advocates who said the rules were limiting participation in the event, which is being held for the first time since 2019. The rules had been on the books for more than two decades before the recent backlash.
"We absolutely knew right away that those items that were flagged had to be addressed. It's the year 2022. There's no place for that type of wording to exist in our rules," said Daniels. "We just had to be mindful of what's relevant today and not what was many years ago in our rules."
Daniels said past blood quantum rules would prevent a lot of young Indigenous people from participating, as well as those who may not have Indian status cards.
"If you as a person know that you're Indigenous, and you want to dance, you're more than welcome to come to our powwow and dance," she said.
The changes were made after working together with two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (2SLGBT+) individuals in the Tḱemlúps te Secwépemc Nation, including Daniels' two-spirit brother Jeffrey McNeil Seymour. The society also worked with the chief and council of the nation, which is the host community for Western Canada's largest powwow.
"It's the action that we take that's going to matter," Daniels said. "This issue is bigger than Kamloopa ... there are going to be changes across the country."
While Daniels says the changes made by the society may not work universally across all communities, she looks forward to seeing how other communities will work to become more inclusive.
Rosanne Casimir, chief (Kukpi7) of the Tḱemlúps te Secwépemc Nation, said in a statement that she thanked the society for taking the "corrective steps to address the outdated rules."
Advocate welcomes changes
Kairyn Potts, a two-spirit advocate and TikTok creator with more than 230,000 followers, was one of the first to flag the regulations around gender, as well as ancestry requirements known as blood quantum.
In an interview with CBC News on Sunday, Potts said he welcomed the changes to the society's rules.
"I think it's a big win for for young people who want to compete in powwows across Turtle Island," he said. "[This] lets them know that not only is there space for you, but we honour you."
For organizers of other powwows, he says the incident with Kamloopa should be a learning experience.
"Regardless of whether their rules and regulations are outdated or not ... our young people are listening," he said. "When there are older, archaic traditions or rules ... in place, they're no longer going to be overlooked."