The Kamloopa Powwow Society is apologizing for entry requirements that are being called outdated and discriminatory by hundreds of people online.
The rules for the Kamloops, B.C., area event outline that contestants must have at "least one-quarter Native blood," perform in full regalia and "be in the correct gender for the category." They also have requirements that dancers must have complete regalia to participate.
The outcry began after the organization posted the schedule of events on its Facebook page.
While the same rules have been in place for more than two decades, members of the public and, in particular, members of the two-spirited Indigenous community began pointing out how it was limiting participation in Western Canada's largest powwow.
Kairyn Potts, a two-spirit advocate and TikToker 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.
"A group of people on the powwow committee had to collectively decide to publicly announce that they do not want to create space or tolerate any individual who wants to dance a separate category from their correct gender," he said on his Instagram post.
"This is a deliberate and calculated discrimination against an already vulnerable group of people. Not to mention, it is a massive step backwards for our communities," said Potts.
He says he felt he needed to comment because of the high rates of death amongst Indigenous and queer youth and thought it was important that these spaces of cultural expression be safe for all people.
He said his posts are not meant to criticize the individuals behind the event but rather to draw attention to the inequity in the rules and present an opportunity for change.
'Dismissed and discredited'
Further concerns about the rules were echoed in dozens of comments and other posts online, with others adding to the discussion.
Kamloops Pride issued a post to ensure people within the two-spirited and queer community feel supported.
"They're feeling as if they are being dismissed and discredited and not valid in their culture and communities," said society president Ashton O'Brien.
They also called on Kamloopa organizers to review and change the policies to be more inclusive.
Another area in which people are asking for change is the requirement dancers have full regalia to participate in the grand entry and competition.
Following the online criticism of the rules, Kamloopa Powwow Society president Delyla Daniels posted an apologetic video.
"I do not know how we're going to recover from this. We've impacted so many people," she said.
In the apology, Daniels notes that today's values have changed, and there is more openness to two-spirited people along with a shift in who can be considered Indigenous.
She says the rules were added more than two decades ago to address concerns from elders and the community over who should be allowed to participate in the competition.
The event has an independent board separate from the Kamloops-area Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation.
Daniels says the society is reevaluating the rules.
"The KPS board has been able to meet to discuss how we're going to move forward and looking at those rules and making our wrong, right."
Opportunities for change
Potts watched the apology online and says he is grateful the society has apologized.
"It's a step in the direction … something bigger than the organizers. It's bigger than that."
He suggests that an easy change would be to remove any gender and sex requirements in the competition.
"Instead of having "women's fancy shawl," simply having a fancy shawl category and whoever dances fancy shawl, regardless of how they identify, will get in."
Another advocate and grass dancer out of Vancouver, Larissa Healey, suggests that Kamloopa could host a two-spirit special at the upcoming event.
"You can always correct it … if they host a two-spirit special, that's going to put them on a platform of reconciliation."
Both Potts and Healey said they will be watching to see what the committee behind Kamloopa Powwow Society does next and are optimistic about potential changes.
Kamloopa is set to run from July 29 to July 31.