What I have learned being a Two-Spirited Women at the Big Drum…
First off I want to send a huge thank you and appreciation to Rupert Richardson for teachings and such incredible warmth, inclusion and stories he has shared with us around the drum. My big brother Alex Shade, who I look up to more than he would ever understand.
I grew up in what is called ‘Pow wow Country”, the Blackfoot Confederacy. We are nations that heavily rely on Pow wow as a way of ceremony for our people and gathering. Many dances have originated from the prairies people such as fancy, grass and chicken. These are in many ways modernized or considered modern pow wow dancing but still just as healing and magnificent. Any chance I got, I took off to a powwow – jumped in with my aunties, my grandma and my friends, as I got older. This was a space where I felt my heart beat through my soul; it was a space where I felt anything was possible.
I always remember when my aunt and grandma asked if I wanted to start dancing, immediately I jumped at it. While, my outfit was hand-me-down it was to me, the most beautiful purple and the best fitting piece of clothing I had ever warn. Unfortunately, it only fit me for so long being really young, and I no longer had an outfit. They were expensive, took long to make and times were not great within my home. I lost the sense of excitement and home I gained from these gatherings for a long time. Until, I got placed in a program for young Indigenous girls to reclaim themselves and the hardships they endured. Within this program they brought in a big drum. However, I felt uncomfortable and awkward at this drum, people always told me “women don’t sit at drum they sing or dance”, “women are pretty, go show your prettiness”. So I felt conflicted, but sitting there I felt my heart, I felt my heart for the first time in a long time. But, that drum was temporary and the hardship didn’t end.
In 2013, I made the biggest move of my life, I left my reserve and moved to the ‘big city’; Vancouver. At least for us it’s a big city! – Struggling to find my place here I endured many obstacles, loss of community, the realities of systemic racism and violence. I slowly found my way into the First Nations Student Association and Indigenous Student Centre, where in times to come I found an incredible Coast family, where we learn, decolonize and cause chaos from campus to frontline streets. Through these groups and incredible people, I found my way back to the drum.
There are not too many ‘big’ pow wows here but when there is one we go. However, in September of 2017 I made a conscience decision to try sit fully at the drum, even with those comments rolling around in the back of my head. Sitting there with everyone drumming, singing and learning I realized I felt my heart again. After far too long, my heart beat returned and I felt the fire within. I am not a person who seeks attention or even tries to be the loudest in the room, but after a couple of months and the support of my peers and Rupert, I felt my spirit strengthen, I felt myself come awake. No matter what pain I felt inside, the drum healed it, each song with the beauty and grace stitched my heart slowly back together. It made me brave enough to ask my big brother, who sits in a Black Otter Drum group, about the drum and songs. It was then that he told me “when women return to the drum, this is when our nations begin to heal”, it is this that brought me more pride than he will probably ever know. He explained it was colonial teachings from residential school that created the negative aspect towards Indigenous women and Two–Spirited people. Realizing the approval of Blackfoot protocol, I felt stronger than ever coming back to the drum group here. I finally felt situated, I felt belonging in the fullest way and my heart now sparks with my soul.