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B.C. powwow organizers apologize after identity-based event rules spark outrage

Click to play video: 'Kamloopa Powwow event rules spark outrage'
Kamloopa Powwow event rules spark outrage
Outrage ahead of the Kamloopa Powwow scheduled for later this month in Kamloops. A number of Indigenous people are speaking out about a few of the posted rules for the event -- which discriminated against certain participants. Julia Foy has reaction from the community and an apology from organizers – Jul 14, 2022

Organizers of a popular powwow in Kamloops, B.C. have issued their “sincerest apologies” after the event rules posted to their Facebook page sparked significant public outrage.

According to a Tuesday post, contestants in the 41st Annual Kamloopa Powwow must be “at least (1/4) Native Blood,” and proof of “tribal identification/status may be required.” The rules also stated that dancers must wear full regalia and “be of the correct gender for that category.”

The rules sparked immediate backlash, with some social media users accusing the Kamloopa Powwow Society (KPS) of enforcing colonial blood quantum, excluding gender diverse and two-spirit people, and upholding transphobia.

“My deepest sympathy to those who have been hurt and harmed in that posting,” said an organizer in a video posted to the group’s Facebook page on Wednesday. “The KPS board has been able to meet to discuss how we’re going to move forward and looking at those rules and making our wrong right.”

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The KPS said Thursday it had no comment on the story as it prepared a formal press release.

Read more: Second annual convoy to Kamloops, B.C. honours the ‘lost souls’ of residential school

The term “blood quantum” refers to a colonial blood measurement practice used to determine who can obtain government-issued Indigenous status and who can pass it onto to their children. While not specifically referenced in Canadian legislation, the Indian Act lays out such criteria.

In a video viewed more than 154,000 times as of Wednesday, two-spirit Nakota Sioux TikToker Kairyn Potts said the Kamloopa Powwow is “enacting literal colonization tactics.” He further described the gender limitations as “heartbreaking” and a “step backwards for our community.”

“It is actively undoing a lot of the work that myself, and many, many, many other advocates for the two-spirit and Indigenous queer community are putting in so much work, and love and energy into,” he said.

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On Twitter, Cree lawyer and activist Tanya Kappo described the “blood quantum” and “correct gender” stipulations as “shameful.”

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Stellat’en First Nation actor and model Shannon Baker tweeted, “Kamloopa powwow you should be ashamed of yourself! Blood quantum and being anti LGBTQ2S+ is colonial thinking.”

On Facebook, the Kamloops Pride Society said it has reached out to the Kamloopa Powwow Society to encourage a change in rules that intentionally includes two-spirit, trans and non-binary folks.

“Two-spirit people were historically celebrated and valued in Indigenous culture, and these decisions don’t align with that,” it wrote.

“Many of the voices we are hearing are echoing the sentiments of how these rules and decisions stem from the white colonialism, patriarchy, and systemic issues that still oppress these communities.”

Read more: Being Two-Spirit and trans in Canada: How colonization shaped the way we view gender diversity

In its own Facebook post, C&T Tabulating, a business that tabulates and measures powwow outcomes through a point system, said it was withdrawing its services from the Kamloops event.

“We support peoples choices, we support inclusivity and cannot in good conscious put ourselves in a situation where our two spirit youth within our family see us enforcing any of these rules (sic),” it wrote.

It was clear in the event organizers’ Wednesday apology that other dancers and individuals had withdrawn as well.

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“I do not know how we’re going to recover from this,” the event organizer said in their video. “We respect your decisions and just know that we are here to relook at how we’ve been operating and how we can move forward in a good way so there is no room for hurt and harm to anyone.”

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According to the KPS, the now-controversial rules stemmed from a German participant in the powwow who won an event one year, upsetting some participants, and from an elder who once spoke about the need for the jingle dress category to be a women-only event.

“Today we’re more open to acknowledge our two-spirited,” the organizer said, “and even … Indigenous communities that it includes First Nations, Métis and the Inuit people.”

She herself was “hurting” as a result of the pain caused by the rules, she added. In its Facebook post, the KPS said the rules posted this week don’t reflect how it has run the last 19 powwows.

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The Kamloopa Powwow takes place on Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc territory, but the First Nation does not organize the event. Global News has reached out to its chief, Kúkpi7 Rosanne Casimir, for comment.

The Hope for Wellness Help Line offers culturally competent counselling and crisis intervention to all Indigenous peoples experience trauma, distress, strong emotions and painful memories. The line can be reached anytime toll-free at 1-855-242-3310.

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