Sirens, bright colours and cheers calling for gender and sexuality inclusivity were the markers of Inuvik, N.W.T.,'s third Pride parade on Friday evening.
It was the first time the community had a regional-based Pride event with 15 youth from across the Beaufort Delta communities flown in for the celebrations.
There were over 160 people in the march, which went from Ingamo Hall to East Three Secondary School. There were also special guests at the event — The Amazing Race Canada winners Anthony Johnson and Dr. James Makokis.
The two-spirit couple flew up from Edmonton with the support of the Beaufort Delta Divisional Education Council to spend time with youth in all-day gender and sexuality discussions focused on being your true self.
Makokis is from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Alberta, and Johnson is from Arizona's Navajo Nation.
"It's pretty incredible that this is a historic Pride," said Makokis.
"Hearing how excited they were, and being like 'I didn't know how many people there are like us here,' I think it instills a sense of safety and pride in the community which is so important … in reaching their fullest potential of who they are."
Johnson said marching the parade route was emotional for him.
"It was the youth that asked us to come up to share tips of how to build allyship and this message to their community because it's hard for them," Johnson said.
"There's still discrimination, there's still homophobia, transphobia, and it's when a community comes together like this that people really see each other ... and that's such a strong message for young people of inclusivity and diversity and love."
Indigenous queer 'need more representation'
Fifteen-year-old Marshal Jellema was one of many exhilarated from the evening parade's turnout and the day's events.
Jellema MCed the speaker series at the event, including during the parade stop at the school. Speakers included Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler and Mayor Clarence Wood.
"It was so amazing. Indigenous queer people really need more representation," Jellema said, adding many people he knows face challenges coming out to their families.
"So they can't really be themselves," said Jellema. "However, if you ever need to come out, come to me."
Inuvik teacher Jacqui Currie was one of the organizers of the Pride parade and events for students.
"We were quite blown away," she said. "To see them come in shy, and today to see them all so happy to be there. One of the students said today was 'the best day of my life.'"
As one of the organizers of the Inuvik Pride Parade and of the Inuvik school's Aurora Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), she and colleague Jill Nugent have been advocating for more safe and inclusive spaces and events across the region.
She said with the help of the Inuvik Regional Hospital, they also had Yellowknife's Northern Mosaic Network come in and support with workshops.
"We've been really focusing on making sure that all of our schools in the school division have GSAs," she said.
"That was where we really wanted to bring them in so that they could meet one on one … and really start a support network."
'We want folks to feel proud'
Johnson said they hope people feel a sense of pride, "not just about being queer or gay, or bi or trans or anything and everything in between," but of being from the North.
"This is such a beautiful area of the world. There's so much culture and history here. And all too often the voices of the North are not heard and people feel left out," Johnson said.
"We're here to say we love it. We love the people and we want folks to feel proud of their youth, of themselves and the lands that they come from."