'We need to be visible': Two-spirit powwow gives dancers a place to be themselves

Growing up as a young dancer, Jack Saddleback always wanted to dance the traditional chicken dance style in powwows. Because of the gender norms at the time, he was never encouraged to. 

This weekend, Saddleback is one of the organizers behind a two-spirit powwow where people can dance any style they choose. 

"We go simply by dance style," said Saddleback, programs and culture coordinator with OUTSaskatoon.

"And within that, we encourage all dancers — especially our two-spirit dancers — to dance a style that they want to, regardless about kind of those gender norms." 

Beardy's Okemasis hosted the powwow in partnership with OUTSaskatoon.

The day started with a gender-neutral pipe ceremony before leading into the grand entry. The entire powwow is gender-affirming, Saddleback said, because it recognizes a number of genders. 

"Regardless about however a person kind of walks into a space we want to ensure that we're affirming their gender and we're not imposing any sort of norms about gender on them," Saddleback said. 

The term two-spirit is fluid between different communities because each nation had different ideas of the meanings,  Saddleback said.

Submitted by Rachel Loewen Walker

A powwow like this is important because some dancers have been denied the ability to dance their style.

"We have a lot of trans[gender] and gender diverse people who come here just being able to participate and be their authentic self," he said. "And not having to leave any part of their expression at the door."

When someone is denied the ability to dance their style, it can lead to isolation, Saddleback said. People can feel like they don't have a place in their community, he said.  

We're having people turn their backs on their culture, we're having high rates of depression, and unfortunately a lot of suicidal ideation. - Jack Saddleback

This is a part of colonization as the traditional Indigenous cultures didn't have homophobia or transphobia, Saddleback said. It was introduced when settlers came to the area. 

"The real impact is we're losing two-spirit community members," he said. "We're having people turn their backs on their culture, we're having high rates of depression, and unfortunately a lot of suicidal ideation as well."

By having an open two-spirit powwow, it puts forward a visible stance against those impacts of colonialism, homophobia and transphobia, he said. 

Submitted by Rachel Loewen Walker

The idea to host the powwow at Beardy's Okemasis started through conversations with Councillor Kevin Seesequasis, Saddleback said. The two have organized pride parades but wanted to continue having an impact.

They decided to look at their cultural celebrations as they needed to be decolonized in terms of gender and changing them to make them as inclusive as possible. 

This is possible anywhere and that we shouldn't be afraid to be very visible about our acceptance of all LGBTQ folks in our communities. We need to be visible.​​​ - Jack Saddleback

"Just that healing aspect, recognizing that we all need to respect all genders, love all genders, because we're all just human beings and we all deserve the right to not only love who we love, but live as who we are," Saddleback said. 

The Cree Nation understood why this should happen and came together to support it, he said. The elders sat down and discussed the impacts on their own community members as well, he said. 

"The actual community pouring out of positivity has been there and it is phenomenal to see the hospitality," Saddleback said. "Opening up their doors, opening up even their own shared experiences of having to deal with homophobia or transphobia."

Submitted by Rachel Loewen Walker

Saddleback said this isn't going to be the last event like this. 

"This is possible anywhere and that we shouldn't be afraid to be very visible about our acceptance of all LGBTQ folks in our communities. We need to be visible," Saddleback said. 

"We need to be able to showcase to folks that we are a loving environment. That we support one another," he said. "We walk behind them and we let them know that they are protected in our communities, they are loved in our communities and we will not let anything harm them."