Leaving The Turtle’s Back
I was a lonely bullied teenager living on my mother’s reservation. I dreamt of being anywhere else but there. I would sit in my bedroom at night secretly reading OUT and The Advocate. I always came across articles or advertisements about gay cruise ships, or queer white folx going on “exotic” vacations. I always thought that travel wasn’t possible because I wasn’t one of them. All I had was a dream.
My first time overseas was with a student exchange program during my days in university. I would be the only masculine person out of a dozen students that would head to Guangzhou, China for two weeks. This was my first time leaving Turtle Island. I was no longer on my peoples’ lands. This would be the farthest I had ever been away from home. I was in awe of my new surroundings, but at the same time, all I could think about was what I left behind.
I fell in love with travel, but I never saw myself advertised anywhere. I started following blogs and Youtube channels about travel, but they were always young privilege white folx having these amazing experiences. I would spend evenings searching for “Indigenous queer backpackers” and found almost no results. I wanted to connect with other travelers like me, but this task proved to be quite challenging and often left me feeling quite alone.
So, I set a goal for myself that when I celebrated ten years of sobriety, I would travel the world for year, so that’s what I did. I didn’t want to become another tourist occupying space and resources on other people’s lands, though. I wanted something meaningful to come from this journey, so I created a photo project called Nations and Voices. It’s goal was to spotlight the stories of POC folx I would meet during my year-long journey.
I would meet Devon who shared with me his story about backpacking through Nicaragua as a Mixed Two Spirit person and the homophobia he faced. Karen told me her story about being from the Cree nation and the looks she would receive while traveling through Germany. I also spent time with Kirby as he shared his experience traveling to Hawaii with his gay partner and their Indigenous children. These are a few of the many folx I had the honour of sharing space with during my travels.
My journey would took me to the west coast of Turtle Island, across Europe, India, Nepal, Dubai, New Zealand, and Costa Rica. These lands were beautiful with so many moments that left me speechless. One of the most memorable was my visit to Karbi Anglong in Northeast India. My host, Ken, an Indigenous Karbi activist, along with his friends spent the week introducing me to local chiefs, elders, and youth. It was an honour to share sacred space with these folx. I listened to the many stories about the impacts of colonialism on their lands and their strength in resilience. These stories sounded all too familiar.
One of my biggest challenges was missing home. I was in Nepal at the time when the feeling came over me. I couldn’t stop crying and all I wanted was to go back to Turtle Island. I missed the land. I missed my people. I wanted to smudge myself with sage. I wanted to hear the sound of our drums, but I was alone and on the other side of the world. Social media helped during this dark time because it allowed my friends and family to provide me with words of encouragement. I didn’t give up.
After a very long journey, I was finally home. I was grateful to be back on Turtle Island, but the transition “back to reality” left me feeling many emotions. I spent this time reflecting on the experiences I just had and gave myself time to process it all. The stories shared with me were inspirational and filled me with hope. I was honoured to have shared time and space with so many amazing POC folx from around the world. I now felt a sense of closure because I accomplished what I set out to do. I had proven to myself that queer brown folx can travel and see the world. Most importantly, I learned that there are so many beautiful stories in the world if only we take the time to stop and listen.
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