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Two-Spirit Powwow celebrates all during Kelowna Pride Week

Kelowna's first ever Two-Spirit Powwow celebration was held in downtown Kelowna on June 6

The Okanagan's first ever Two-Spirit Powwow celebration drew hundreds of people from across Turtle Island, also known as North America, to participate in the downtown Kelowna event. 

The Powwow was organized in a collaborative effort between the Kelowna Pride Society and Aaron Mitchell of Four Feathers 2 Spirit Society, as part of Kelowna's Pride Week celebrations.

Before the Powwow began, the Circle in Kelowna's City Park was blessed by Head Grass Dancer, Alexis Tonasket Hoyt, a Two-Spirit Syilx person living in Washington, USA. 

The Powwow honoured and was inclusive of all people, including those who grew up disconnected from their Indigenous culture, people who are not of Indigenous descent, and people of all gender and sexual identities. 

Tonasket Hoyt explained that acceptance of gender and sexual diversity is deeply rooted in Indigenous traditions and language and is not a novel concept.

"Two-Spirit identity has been passed down through generations and it is not new," said Tonasket Hoyt after blessing the Powwow Circle. 

"Since time in memorial, Two-Spirit people have had traditional roles in our communities."

As a result of colonialism and the "cultural genocide," of Indigenous peoples across North America, traditional knowledge and language was lost, and people were disconnected from their identities, said Tonasket Hoyt.

"A lot of people had to hide due to colonialism. For our own safety and protection, Two-Spirit people as well as fluent Indigenous language speakers had to hide and sometimes not teach their children our language or our diverse identities."

Tonasket Hoyt said there are many words for people who are queer within traditional languages, but in English the term 'Two-Spirit', represents Indigenous folks feel both masculine and feminine energy within themselves.

Historically, all people were invited to participate in Powwow in whichever discipline they felt called to, regardless of gender. 

Due to colonialism and the imposition of a binary gender ideology, dances, like the Grass Dance became reserved solely for men. 

Now, Tonasket Hoyt is following in the footsteps of their ancestors and relatives – some of who were bold Grass Dancers and Two-Spirit people – and are proudly reclaiming their identity and language.

Their grandmother was a Grass Dancer, as was their uncle and Tonasket Hoyt now dances powerfully in their memory. 

"I am so proud I have it pouring out of my eyes right now," said Tonasket Hoyt with a smile and misty eyes after dancing with other Two-Spirit people.

"I am here to be myself out in the open, like my Grandma told me to."

They said that the Two-Spirit Powwow is a pathway for people to open their hearts, minds and Circles back up and welcome to each other in. 

"We can strengthen our communities by being inclusive," said Tonasket Hoyt. 

Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

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