VANCOUVER—This summer, for the first time ever, the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh nations will all have their own floats in Vancouver’s Pride Parade, and six of the parade’s seven grand marshals are Indigenous.
The Aug. 5 parade, organized by the Vancouver Pride Society, is a cornerstone event in the city’s LGBTQ culture and community. The Indigenous nations on whose unceded land the city sits will be full participants in the parade, marking its 40th anniversary.
Orene Askew, councillor with the Squamish Nation and a member of the nation’s Pride team, said her community’s participation in the parade means Two Spirit and Indigenous LGBTQ people can no longer be ignored. This year is the first time the nation will have a float in the parade.
“When you go to events in Vancouver, they do the traditional territory acknowledgement and it almost feels like it’s scripted, they have to say it, but by us being in it now … we want to be at the table, we just want to be included,” she said.
Askew — also known as DJ O Show — is a performer and youth worker. She wouldn’t say what she and the team are planning for the parade other than that “it’s really cool, and it really represents the Squamish Nation” and that she would be DJing on the float.
She said she’s hoping for 100 people on the float, and that as parade day draws closer, more people are coming out to the Squamish Pride team’s bi-weekly planning meetings.
At the last meeting, she said, when people were introducing themselves, many said they weren’t even two-spirited or LGBTQ. Askew recalls many saying, “We are here because we want to support our Two Spirited members and the ones who are afraid to come out.”
The term “Two Spirit” is used by some Indigenous people to describe the fluidity of their gender and sexuality and its interconnectedness with their spirituality.
Laurie McDonald, founder and director of the Greater Vancouver Native Cultural Society, was chosen as a grand marshal and will help lead the parade. He’s Two Spirit and from theEnoch Cree nation near Edmonton. McDonald has been involved with the parade since its inception, but this is the first time he recalls there being an Indigenous grand marshal.
“I think it’s awesome that the nomination came from someone in the community,” he said. “It’s awesome for the fact that we finally have an Indigenous person or Indigenous organization recognized.”
McDonald remembers the 1970s and ’80s, when many queer and Two Spirit Indigenous people fled their reserves due to homophobia, only to come to Vancouver and find themselves the targets of racism. Two Spirit people were well respected in Indigenous communities before they were colonized, he said.
“A lot of us came in there as young people with degrees etc., but you go into one of the gay clubs (and) they were always saying, ‘Oh, there comes one of the squaws, there comes one of the drunk squaws,’” he recalled. Sometimes, to fit in with the broader queer community, queer Indigenous or Two Spirit people would pretend to be Chinese or Filipino, he said.
To address the homophobia, McDonald organized with other Indigenous people to form the Greater Vancouver Native Cultural Society. The name, was purposefully vague about its association with the queer community, because he and his fellow organizers didn’t want their families to know they were LGBTQ or Two Spirit.
But today things are different. People can be out as Two Spirit and still live in their communities, he said.
“This is what we try to work for, all the time, is for our nations to accept them,” McDonald said. “Now they don’t have to leave the reserves in order to live, work and play and get married. They can go home and do that, they don’t have to hide in the cities. That’s why I’m so happy this is out in front right now.”
The other parade grand marshals who are Indigenous are a collective of youth who live with HIV. According to Pride’s website, they created a film and speaking series called A Mile in Our Moccasins to provide information about HIV and sexual health that they felt was lacking for queer youth.
Andrea Arnot, executive director of the Vancouver Pride Society, said these young people are “a nod to looking towards the future.”
The Musqueam Nation has had floats in the parade for the past two years, Arnot said, but it’s the first time that the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Squamish Nation have floats.
“It’s an important representation for their own communities … but also (the floats will be) representing where we live and where the parade is held.”