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Indigenous Joy is Diverse and Powerful

by Rick Haverkate, MPH, National HIV/HCV/STI Program Consultant, Indian Health Service

Transgender Awareness Week, celebrated from November 13 to 19, is an important moment for transgender inclusion. The Transgender Day of Remembrance is also observed on November 20 as a day to memorialize those who have been murdered as a result of transphobia.

The Indian Health Service would like to lift up our many American Indian and Alaska Native relatives who identify as trans, gender-expansive, and live beyond the constraints of Western binary gender. Colonialism created a lingering myth that says there is no place for queerness within Indigenous communities. In reality, this myth results from division, assimilation and erasure of our prominent roles and practices uniquely inclusive of all in our communities. Historically – and now – queer Indigenous people have always been important and sacred in our communities, often finding ourselves in roles of helper, connector, artist, spiritual leader, and more, having unique access to a diversity of traditional community roles and gender identities. Our medicine is critical to the futures of all our people. 

In the summer of 2021, the Paths (Re)Membered Project, funded through the IHS and the Minority HIV/AIDS Fund Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving , communed with queer Indigenous creative Evan Bennally Atwood (Diné/Navajo) to manifest a story of collective queer Indigenous joy. With arms open, this project is an embrace and a reminder that you belong. You will always have a place; you are important and valued. Queer Indigenous joy is diverse and powerful. Yet, mainstream society rarely celebrates or recognizes the space between queer and Indigenous identities. We’re putting a spotlight on queer Indigenous joy.

Over 15 days, Evan shot a series of photos from across what is now known as Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Then, equipped with a notebook and camera, Evan embarked on a journey with Nate Lemuel (Diné/Navajo), capturing sweet and sacred moments of queer Indigeneity. Joyfully existing as a queer Indigenous person is an act of survivance and reclamation of ancient ways of knowing who we are and how we love.

Visit Remembering Queer Indigenous Joy Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving  to view the entire photo series and story.

I think it is just as important, if not more, to make/create space for the joy and the beauty that is being queer. Rivianna, Bad River Reservation, Ojibway

Rick Haverkate, MPH, National HIV/HCV/STI Program Consultant, Indian Health Service

Rick Haverkate is an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. His 30-year public health career has been focused entirely on Indigenous peoples of North America in roles including community health educator, public health advisor, and director of public health at the tribal, state, and national levels. Rick currently serves as the IHS National HIV/HCV/STI Program consultant. He earned his MPH from the University of Hawaii-Manoa.