To Move Pride Forward, We Need Indigenous Leadership and Acknowledgment of Turtle Island
For generations, American Indians have risen each morning by greeting the sun with a prayer and burning of sage to acknowledge and give thanks to the Holy People for being blessed with another day on Mother Earth. As this tradition has been passed down from generation to generation, the colonial influences of assimilation have diminished the importance of a daily morning prayer while slowly spiraling downward without acknowledgement or remorse. When we think about what it means to make Pride inclusive, I am reminded of many traditions that have been lost but may find a place for representation.
The next question one may ask is: how have American Indian traditions been incorporated into Pride festivals that have already taken the step to include acknowledgements of Indigenous land and first occupiers or inhabitants? Including land acknowledgement and Opening Blessings at the beginning of Pride festivals is a first step in being more inclusive of American Indian peoples. Pride festivals can and should be made accountable to Indigenous people whose land on which such celebrations are taking place. There are a few obstacles we must first address.
Pride leadership is often comprised of people of European descent whose focus on capitalist corporate sponsorships disregards the significance of implementing an Opening Blessing at the beginning of Pride festivals. Since these are community events, they should also recognize members of the Two Spirit community, allies, family, and friends. Pride attendees need to be reminded of the history of Indigenous people and their contributions to the 2SLGBTQ movement in which Indigenous people play an important role in the preservation of land, water, animals, and Mother Earth. By invoking a stronger sense of an inclusive community, we acknowledge these important connections.
In 2010, I had the opportunity to walk with the Native Trans Talking Circle in the San Francisco Pride Parade. Most Pride festivities make plenty of room for the corporate sponsors that spend a significant amount of money to profit from disingenuous relationships to the 2SLGBTQ community. Unfortunately, the invitation to be included and represented is rarely extended to tribal nations. However, this one memory stands out from this event: the Bay Area American Indian Two Spirit group conducted the Opening Blessing at the beginning of one of the most well-known and beloved Pride events in the U.S. It was truly a memorable experience. Afterwards, I could not help but wonder why other Pride events did not implement this practice as a community standard.
In the Navajo culture, K’e is a term used to identify the relations and connections through Clan system and the Holy People. Traditional Navajo oral stories share highlights of the Holy People guiding the Navajo people within the boundaries of the Four Sacred Mountains that include Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. As a person of American Indian descent, I have resided in an urban setting of Phoenix, Arizona for most of my life with periodic visits back to the Motherland of the Navajo Nation within the Four Sacred Mountains. Here I’ve encountered a different Pride experience.
In recent years, Diné Pride has made their presence known by hosting an annual Pride festival within the Sovereign Nation to acknowledge the contributions of Diné that identify as nadleehi and/or dilba including those that may identify as 3rd, 4th, or 5th gender. In a western context, this refers to those that may identify within the 2SLGBTQ acronym. An important component of Diné Pride is that the organizers instill Diné teachings, culture, and traditions which are also highlighted within their mission and vision statements. This is a step in the right direction for tribes hosting Pride festivals on their traditional land. Including Opening and Closing Blessing allows them to acknowledge their ancestors who have sacrificed so much by shedding blood; many giving their lives to create a better future for the next generation of gender non-conforming tribal members. It is also an opportunity to acknowledge trailblazers who have paved the way. While this tradition may be acknowledged in a Sovereign Nation, this is not typically the case in a major urban setting where Indigenous populations are only a small percentage.
My observation of the 2019 World Pride March in New York City reminds me that there is little input from Indigenous people, even though there was representation from the Two Spirit Indigenous People Association that represented numerous tribal nations throughout Turtle Island. I don’t recall hearing anything about the Indigenous people being asked to conduct an Opening Blessing for the 2019 World Pride festival either, which clearly sends the message that neither Indigenous people nor the land they inhabit is worthy of public acknowledgment. Unfortunately, a group of non-natives dressed up in regalia walked in the 2019 World Pride March that resulted in a lot of furious Two Spirit marchers and attendees.
Cultural appropriation continues in Pride festivals as organizers fail to respect Indigenous people’s cultures, traditions, and beliefs. If we want to see Pride be both accountable and inclusive, we must advocate for change from within. It is time for American Indian leadership.
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