A new photo exhibit at The Grand in downtown Calgary showcases the resurgence of a group that long existed on the margins of society, according to organizers.
The exhibit, 50 Shades of Brown: a celebration of Two-Spirit visibility, intends to honour and uplift with the faces of two-spirit and Indigiqueer people.
It was created by Mohkinstsis actor, performer and educator Marshall Vielle as part of Where the Two Rivers Meet YYC project, which is operated by the Centre for Sexuality.
"When I think about this exhibit, I think about all of the vulnerability that goes into being part of a project like this," they said.
"When I think about what it means to be two-spirit in 2022, I think about how brave a lot of these folks are, myself included. It takes a lot to allow yourself to be seen in this way."
The photos were taken by Alanna Bluebird, a Blackfood/Dene artist who lives in Tsuut'ina Nation. She makes art, teaches language and uses her creativity to empower youth.
Vielle says Bluebird has an eye for capturing the beauty of someone and putting it in a photo, which they saw in action at the two-day photo shoot.
LISTEN | Creative lead for 50 Shades of Brown project explains what it's all about:
As someone who grew up on Treaty 7 lands, Vielle said just seeing the faces on the wall is super important as an example for young people today.
"I didn't have folks who looked like me or acted like me, and so I hope folks are able to see these images and say, 'Hey, that's somebody who's just like me.' And I hope they would feel inspired to say it's OK to be who I am."
For Pam Krause, president and CEO of the Centre for Sexuality, the exhibit is about reconciliation and creating community.
"This is such an opportunity for us to really highlight the importance of Indigenous people in all of our communities in everything that we do in our lives," she said.
Historically, Vielle said, being two-spirit was rooted in who people were and the roles they played in their communities. It was rooted in everyday life.
A mural project in Sunnyside earlier this year is also part of 50 Shades of Brown.
Vielle said they hope to take the exhibit on the road to tour both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities so that people can see the two-spirit experience for what it is: not limiting oneself to the black and white binaries of western gender.
"I think it's about embracing the grey, embracing possibilities, allowing yourself to think or act or experience life in a different way, which does take a lot of courage for a lot of folks as well."