By Eric Hamley
Back in the mid-2000’s, a guy punched me at the bar for dancing with another man. 15 years later I was in drag onstage celebrating the first Pride on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in front of one of my tormentors.
It is very much an indication of how far we have come as a people to accept our Two Spirits who were once revered in the community before the colonized idea that being LGBTQ was sinful. It was an honor to be part of this historic moment and a positive indication of not only accepting but celebrating those of us who are different.
The first Turtle Mountain Pride Drag Show happened on June 18th to celebrate the 53rd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots – to an enthusiastic reception. Held at the Sky Dancer Casino and Resort, the event sold out its 300 seats within twenty minutes and allowed additional standing-room people before having to turn people away at the door.
The show, put on by the Turtle Mountain Two Spirit Society with the help of Tribal Councilman Kenneth Malaterre, was heavily promoted, with Pride flags all over the casino. There seemed to be an excitement and outpouring of love even as the performers arrived. Everyone put aside any differences and came together to honor one another.
The entertainment came from a multitude of backgrounds, from across North Dakota and Minnesota, and in solidarity. The cast consisted of local enrolled members Sophie Le Piff Cruz, Raven Knight and Phoenix Dawn; from Grand Forks BJ Armani and Liquorite Hipster; and from Minneapolis Azalia Selena Cruz, Carmen Love and Ebony Evers.
I was most excited to show off my own reservation to my drag mom Azalia, who stayed awake listening to me like I was a travel guide for the entire eight hour drive, there and then back again. She was a transplant from Texas that lived in Grand Forks for many years. I had moved from Fargo to Minneapolis the year before. It was great to be included, no matter how far away we all were.
Each performer brought their story to the stage. We each performed three songs and it was difficult to make it around the event center during each number, because the crowd was so ecstatic.
During my first number, performing my signature Mariah Carey, I got to my mom’s table and seeing her cry, I broke down. Then the whole audience started cheering along. It was the proudest I’ve ever seen her; and probably a great relief as well since she worried about how the world would treat her little boy for so long.
I also did a tribute to my mom, who was once called the “Native Tanya Tucker,” while wearing her jacket. Earlier in the day she had me try on her dresses from when she was a country singer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fit into them, even though my mom had five kids at that point!
A highlight for me was Phoenix Dawn, another Turtle Mountain performer, who did a touching number in honor of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. By our final performances, we were all feeling the love and I got emotional looking out over that stage at a community that went all out to show support.
For many there, it was their first drag show ever and from what I heard, it is something they would like to continue. I will gladly take that trip again anytime I’m asked and I’m sure everyone else would too. We were all treated so well and for some of us, myself included, it was the most important show of our careers.
To be able to come home and share that moment with my people was humbling. I wish I could go back to that little kid being picked on for being gay and say, “Someday you’re going to be onstage entertaining your people, just be patient.” I have been patient and it has really paid off. I’m still feeling emotional about it a month later.
On a more spiritual note, I feel like our Two Spirit ancestors were proud of us too. During the month of June, two white buffalo calves were born on the reservation. The white buffalo is a symbol of hope and good things to come for many Indigenous people. The chance of one being born is one in a million, but two is truly amazing.
Wow. Turtle Mountain really went all out for Pride this year.
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