Morley Pride a leap forward for Alberta’s two-spirit community

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The inaugural Morley Pride event this weekend is set to break through taboo barriers and celebrate the two-spirit community.

The Drag Diva Cabaret event takes place Saturday (Aug. 27) in the Chill Room at the Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino, about 30 kilometres east of Canmore. Doors open at 8 p.m.

Morley Pride is the first organized two-spirit pride event on an Alberta First Nations reserve; a leap forward that event co-organizers Carla Pauls of Chiniki Programs and Argintina Hailey have taken great honour in being part of.

“We’re very humbled and at the same time I know there’s a lot of emotions, but happy emotions like, ‘Oh my god, we’re actually going to be the first one doing this,’” said Hailey.

The Morley Pride lineup will feature a drag show with the regal Hailey and Banff’s Miss Ellen Q and the Pumas, among other on-stage performers.

The night will begin with a prayer by Stoney elder Tina Fox and a speech from Banff-Cochrane MLA Cameron Westhead.

Two-spirit comedian Dane Cunningham will MC the event, and Morley’s Girls Got Rhythme Band are scheduled to showcase a traditional dance.

There will be dancing and music after the show with DJ Peter Bedard.

“Everyone is welcome, it’s not about being gay or bisexual or any of those stereotypes that are out there,” said Hailey.

“We kind of want to say we’re a part of the community, too, and we want to show that the two-spirited community should be celebrated as such and allow them to be out and be themselves on home turf.”

A two-spirit drag queen, Hailey (actually Cleavon Wildman) is a member of the Wesley First Nation – one of the three Stoney Nakoda First Nation bands.

An individual who is two-spirit such as Hailey was considered a respected individual in a First Nation band before colonization. In a sense, they understand both male and female aspects of a human being.

“Me being the only drag queen performer on our reserve, and being kind of well known, it was like, ‘Let’s take this big step and do this,’ said Hailey.

“We were going to do it small originally through the community members. I dabbled (with the idea) in the past, but I never really had a platform. I’ve just been doing things like Banff Pride and some of the community members said I should do it in Morley and we were like, ‘One day we’ll get there,’ and now, it’s one day.”

The long and bumpy road to get to this milestone for Alberta’s two-spirit people has arrived, but, historically, it’s a much different environment on the reserve, said Hailey.

One’s sexuality is kept private in First Nations culture, so when Hailey had been previously approached about promoting a Morley Pride, she hesitated.

Coming of age on the reserve is tough, and growing up a two-spirit brings a completely different set of challenges.

Even the vibe from family members became challenging as Wildman’s mother told the teenager that there is a proper lifestyle and not proper lifestyle to lead.

Being two-spirited on the reserve opened one up for criticism and discrimination.

“Two-spirited people always wanted to express themselves, but were afraid of being ridiculed and being judged for who they were … (My mom) started becoming scared for me,” said Hailey.

“My dad and step dad told her to lay off me because there are enough kids who killed themselves over this exact kind of pressure … She laid off and started accepting and coming to my shows four or five years ago.”

As soon as Hailey’s grandfather attended one of her shows, she finally knew it was OK to tell people about her alter ego.

“He said he was proud of me and was always proud of me, and wondered why we never told him,” said Hailey, adding her grandfather had been in the entertainment business, after all.

When Hailey was figuring out who she was, she had only one person she could look up to – a man who lived as a woman, but was not shunned.

Now finding herself in a role to see First Nation youngsters in the same position Hailey once was, Hailey said she is happy to nurture them to be comfortable in their own skin.

“I’ve always said to them, ‘Be who you are, you’re part of this community even if some people may not appreciate or agree with our lifestyle. At the end of the day we all share the land, so be free to be who you are,’” said Hailey.

Knowing the history of sexuality and First Nations tradition, though, Hailey expects a lot of first time pride goers to be in the audience who have never experienced the sounds and colours of a drag show.

“We don’t want to scare them away, we want to ease them and have that experience of, ‘Wow, we actually enjoyed ourselves … we’re more about a fun show.’”

“There’s no dress code – just not nudity,” she said, laughing.

“We’re open to everything, just not too revealing.”

The Morley Pride drag show will combine modern and old school drag shows- with the old school style being more glam and camp and modern day drag being an edgier version and performing to more top 40 hits.

Hailey, who considers herself to be of the old school style, has been performing in drag for 16 years and has held titles such as Miss Gay Canada and Miss Gay Calgary, among other accolades.

“I’ve always done everything in the city or different towns and people finally started to accept I was a drag queen … from there I slowly started inviting people from the reserve to my shows,” said Hailey.

“When I put on Argintina, I’m more loose, I’m more free spirited. I always pride myself on being a Tina Turner on stage. She’s my inspiration for stage presence; that’s who I embody a lot.”

The hope would be to continue Morley Pride as an annual event, said Hailey. For right now, though, Hailey and Pauls are putting their toes in the water.

Another big component of the event is Stoney members being able to perform on Stoney land.

Word about the event has spread to other Albertan aboriginal communities as talk about hosting a two-spirit pride event on other reserves becomes an achievable goal.

“I’ve asked people from the different communities that I know because I know quite a few people from within Treaty 7 and some people up north and they were like, ‘We’ve never had a drag show on our reserve,’ ” said Hailey.

Advanced tickets for Morley Pride are $15 and can be found at Canmore’s Hello Vintage and Banff’s The Last Temptation Thrift. Tickets at the door will be $25.

Tickets can also be purchased online at eventbrite.ca, or by phone through Argintina Hailey (403-512-1795) or Chiniki Programs (403-688-0504).

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Rocky Mountain Outlook