Nenookaasi Ogichidaa identifies as two-spirit, an umbrella term that indigenous people from North America use to describe their place on a spectrum of genders and sexualities.
The mental wellness navigator, who works with black and indigenous communities in Ontario, Canada, goes by two sets of gender pronouns: they, their and them, as well as she and her. For them, it was important to be identified by both sets as they navigate our gender-normative world in a fluid way, and as a way to embody their two-spirit identity.
Nenookaasi (or Neno for short) is also a powwow dancer. Powwows are traditional social gatherings in many Native American communities that allow people to come together to celebrate age-old traditions. And nothing says powwow like the Fancy Dance – a ubiquitous staple of these gatherings. But the dance is also strictly gendered – there’s one version for men and another for women.
For Neno, who loved dancing, the gender confinement of powwows was stifling: the expectation that men and women could only perform certain dances and wear certain outfits. And slowly, they realized the binary world they were forced into didn’t promote their well-being and they stopped dancing altogether.
But when HuffPost Canada reporter Al Donato meets Neno, who is one of 24 LGBTQ+ change-makers being profiled for HuffPost’s global pride project – “Proud Out Loud” – they are wearing a yellow shawl they found on the street, blooming with fiery wings that trails into fringes. On their feet are handmade moccasins, decorated with flames and enforced with reclaimed leather from couches. Underneath the fancy shawl – typical of the women’s powwow dance – Neno wears a black hoodie, emblazoned with the words “Resilient And Relentless.”
In a bid to break free from the confines of gender norms and represent their gender fluidity, Neno is wearing both male and female regalia, and after three years of no dancing, they are back, dressed to the nines and ready to dance to the big drum. “I missed this so much,” they say.
They are still processing what their complete two-spirit, powwow regalia will look like, and until then, Neno is diverting their energies to community organizing and educating others about their cultures.
It’s this unrelenting authenticity that makes Neno such a beacon for others – especially for black Native Americans, according to Donato: “Whatever responsibility they inhabit, be it at a powwow or a nation-wide Pride advisory, they carve out space for their most authentic self.
“Canadian LGBTQ representation has historically and continues to leave out two-spirit contributions. Neno’s plurality of identity — black, indigenous and Ukrainian; queer, two-spirit, and polyamorous; partner, parent, and puppy mom — exists without compromising on any of them, which we love.”
We hope you’ll enjoy this spotlight on just one of the many inspiring voices that make up HuffPost’s “Proud Out Loud.” Our heroes span the globe — from the U.K. to Korea to Canada and beyond — and they cut across identities and professions and passions. Read the full series of profiles here.
Signing off from our London HQ.
Until next time,
For more on LGBTQ+ issues in Canada, follow HuffPost’s @AlDonato
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