Head dancer Nina Berglund participates in an intertribal dance for the second grand entry during the 2023 Reclaiming Our Identities Two Spirit Powwow sponsored by New Native Theatre. The event was held on Saturday, June 24, 2023, at South High School in Minneapolis. Credit: Erica Dischino for MPR News

This story comes to you from MPR News through a partnership with Sahan Journal.

The Reclaiming Our Identities powwow celebrated the two-spirit community during Pride weekend in Minneapolis.

Singers, dancers, and community gathered for the powwow at South High in Minneapolis. Fringed with rainbow colors, the gymnasium was transformed from a basketball court to a dance arena. Just down the hall in the open-air lunchroom, Indigenous artists and vendors covered folding tables with beaded jewelry, hats and ribbon work.

The next row over, community organizations set up tables with pamphlets and flyers, and paper powwow fans—much needed for a hot June day.

Volunteers wore bright pastel tee shirts with the progress pride and gender fluid flag, everyone celebrating Indigenous queer identities.

Two-spirit refers to an Indigenous person who has both a masculine and feminine spirit, a way people from across many tribal nations identify their spiritual and gender identity.

New Native Theatre, a company in Minneapolis hosts the annual social dance. This was the second year that organizers welcomed people to the gathering.

Charli Fool Bear, who is Dakota from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, is an artistic producer with New Native Theatre. She said the event began to honor two-spirit theater artists and art-makers.

“Theater itself is built on the work of two-spirit people. A part of Indigenous theater’s history starts with two-spirit folks,” said Fool Bear. “People who put it all on the line for our community, for storytelling, for … everything.”

Two-spirit Sisseton Dakota elder and lifelong Minneapolis resident Reva D’Nova said she arrived from another event to spend the day with her two-spirit relatives.

“The recognition of the two-spirit community is long overdue,” said D’Nova.

As a two-spirit elder, D’Nova said her role is to providing guidance to the younger people.

“If I’m able to help them and guide them than I am happy to do it,” she said.

Longtime Minneapolis resident Mo Mike helped lead the day’s events as one of two head dancers. Cree from Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation, Saskatchewan, Mike identifies as two-spirit transmasculine. He said the event’s organizers work hard to make the space welcoming for people who may not have grown up going to Indigenous social gatherings.

Head Dancer Mo Mike participates in an intertribal dance in the second grand entry during the Reclaiming Our Identities Two Spirit Powwow on June 24, 2023. Credit: Erica Dischino for MPR News

“This will be safe space for them to be who we are as two-spirit trans people, gender non-conforming. We’re making it as safe as possible for all of us to be there.”

Brian Heart, a citizen of the Yankton Sioux tribe and a longtime resident of Minneapolis was asked by the event’s organizers to offer welcoming remarks.

“It’s time that we’re able to come out, be who we are, share a part of our knowledge and our wisdom,” said Heart. “It’s never too late to learn who you are as a person.”

Deanna StandingCloud, citizen of Red Lake Nation, has been emceeing powwows for the past several years. She said the powwow is important to her as a parent.

“I am the mother of a two-spirit daughter. it’s really taught me a lot about being an Anishinaabe person, and also being a mother,” said StandingCloud. “A powwow for the two-spirit community needs to be a safe place because we’re reclaiming a lot of those teachings and a lot about being in community with each other.”

The event made history as the first powwow to have two women as emcees. Deanna StandingCloud was joined by her longtime friend—who also just happens to share her first name. Deanna Beaulieu, citizen of White Earth Nation, joined StandingCloud at the emcee stand. For Beaulieu it was her first time emceeing.

Beaulieu said she was a bundle of nerves on her way to the powwow.

She credits her own two-spirit family members with helping to instill within her and other young family members a sense of acceptance. She said it helped her to remember to just be herself as she stepped into the new role.

“Raising us with that sense of like, ‘We are accepting people and we’re generous with the spirit of giving and sharing, and inclusion’—I think that’s super important,” she said.

Melissa Olson (she/hers) is a writer and a freelance journalist. Most recently, she was Deputy Director of MIGIZI Communications, a non-profit serving American Indian Youth in Minneapolis, and was the...