Today will be a special day, not just because it’s the first morning we load our chanunpas and enter the arbor to start our four-day ceremony.
Today I will load a new pipe, a male pipe chanunpa. I’m given a men’s skirt and eagle feathers to stand pointed up for my sage crown. The Sundance chief “Joe” asked me to dance on the men’s side on tree day and I agreed to do this. I did not expect this to happen, it didn’t even cross my mind. The nine-hour drive from Winnipeg the day before tree day, I had no concerns about which side I would dance. I had packed my women’s pipe, the frock I had worn the past two years, the eagle feather that would hang from the sage crown and my eagle whistle.
Today I felt what an honor to be asked and to dance with the men, because I am a woman by gender.
Now I had always admired Nee-gon-we-way-we-dun (the thunder before the storm) or Clyde Bellecourt and the American Indian Movement for their work regarding civil rights and human rights of Indians. But the topics of gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, Two-Spirit and queer I had not ever recalled hearing discussed much.
In 2008, I had attended the International Two-Spirit Gathering hosted by the Minnesota Two-Spirit volunteers at the Audubon Centre of the Northwoods, Sandstone, Minnesota. Nee-gon-we-way-we-dun had come to speak along with his assemble of people. I’ll never forget how they pulled up in their big long black cars; I thought the secret service or mafia had arrived. He had quite a presence and spoke with much passion and he supported us.
Now where I came from, an “elder” had told me “you could never be Midewiwin, they don’t allow gay people in.” So I decide to approach Clyde as he was Midewiwin and ask whether this statement told to me by this “elder” was true or not. He immediately replied to me that it was not true. He asked me “who told you this? This is not true, not true at all. If you every come to my lodge you will be welcomed.”
So here I am 8 years later dancing at the 26th Annual Gathering of the Sacred Pipes Sundance hosted by the American Indian Movement in Pipestone, Minnesota. It worried me, coming into this territory I was not from and being part of change. I asked my friend Lonnie, “What do you think Clyde will say?” She could see I was worried, but she assured me “he won’t say anything, if he did say something he would most likely say, they are people too.” I felt better; Clyde did not say anything about it, at least not to me.
My worries aside I focused on why I was here to pray, fulfill my commitment and offer my flesh. Everyone was here to dance for their own reasons. I was here partly for myself, my own personal battles and prayers.
Secondly as a Buffalo Dancer I dance to fight the suicide spirit that plagues many indigenous nations but particular Two-Spirit people. For many Two-Spirits their communities have pushed them out and away. No space is provided for them. Some communities deny their existence thus it could not a factor in the rash of suicides by young people. Most Two-Spirit people know that homophobia is alive and well in some of our communities. For those that leave their communities and seek refuge in big cities they quickly find out the new oppressive factors are racism, classism and sexism, etc. although I had created and founded the Two Spirited People of Manitoba, I knew there was much more work that needed to be done. It would require Two-Spirit individuals to enter and find a place in ceremonies in the Sundance ceremony.
The third reason I choose to dance the Sundance was to find that space, to show there is space in ceremony for Two-Spirit people
Here is that space, all two spirit people need to do is step up a take their place. They will be welcomed.
But it didn’t start here in Pipestone, a month earlier I danced at the Sprucewoods Sundance hosted by the Blacksmith family in the Spruce Woods Provincial Park located in south central Manitoba, Canada. It was my forth year and I was asked if I would like to dance with the men. I gladly accepted. This invitation was offered months prior to the ceremony. The year prior we had a meeting to discuss Two Spirit peoples place in Sundance. Of course they were welcomed to dance but where would they dance required some thought.
The Sundance Chief David Blacksmith shared his dream and knowledge of the three fires. The first fire was green for the women, the second fire past the green fire was blue for the men and beyond that fire was an orange fire, it was for the Two-Spirit people. In preparing my regalia for Sundance I wore mostly orange with a green and blue checked semi-frock with an applique of the three fires-green, blue and orange on the front and back. If there were any Two-Spirits in the crowd of supporters or helpers, they were sure to have seen me out of the hundred and thirty dancers.
Lots of people advocate for GLBTTQ to create safe spaces, for their rights, for building resilience and capacity for GLBTTQ youth, to provide accessibility to much needed services. Also, understanding Two-Spirit roles and responsibilities can be difficult to learn when there’s no one around to ask. A good way (the best way I believe) to start is by getting involved and actually participating in ceremonies. Much of what is taught in ceremony you will never find on the internet or in libraries– find elders that have been in ceremonies and who are willing to share and discuss the teachings and ceremonies — I have found that has worked best for me.
There are those with mountains of college-educated research, man-made laws and protocols set up to exclude people and have had a negative impact on the lives of Two-Spirit people. I find them to be intrusive in my life and interfere with my relationship with the spirit world.
The dancing with men was not harder than dancing with the women the previous year. We were all out there in the arbor for the same length of time. I was still concerned about feeling the tops of my feet getting sun burned, the itchiness of the jigger bites, and the fear of piercing. Yes, the women smell better, fart less, don’t dry heave and hug more but we all sacrifice on behalf of the community and together we pray for healing.
On our last entry into the arbor we collect our pipes and exit through the east door, walk by the drum group at the south door and shake the hands of the supporters as we make our way around to the west end of the arbor. One last sweat and we are done. Gatorade and watermelon for the dancers. Before we leave the arbor we pick out pieces of pipestone laid out in the arbor between the pray sticks. Then the pray sticks are taken by the dancers, supporters and helpers. Down to the kitchen, Clyde addresses the dancers and shares his pride. We pray and the feast begins, pickerel, chicken, beef, wild rice, potatoes, corn, stew, gravy, watermelon, fruit, juice, water, cake and bannock.
Last is the giveaway. Fourth year dancers have a giveaway-t-shirts, towels, wild rice, mugs, lotions, medicine, etc. We pack up our camps and head to the Royal River Casino & Hotel to room with a shower, bed, laundry facilities and a restaurant. Monday morning we have breakfast with our Sundance family; say our good byes before the long drive back to Winnipeg. The days following we share facebook pictures, friend requests and share our experience with those at home.
For Sundancers a new year begins. One of the most enjoyable parts of Sundance is the children. Seeing them come about and grow up with ceremony like my friend \Lonnie’s boy Wakonda. He is a special gift not only to her but to the Sundance family.
I hope next year other Two-Spirit people will come and dance either at the Sprucewoods Sundance in Canada or the Gathering of the Sacred Pipes Sundance in the USA.
Two Headed Eagle, Donna Glover
Donna may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org