Cedar T, a two-spirit artist of the Indigenous drag house, IndigiHauz, was one of several queens whose performance marked the crown jewel of the Jasper Pride and Ski Festival’s closing weekend.
The evening was called Sâkihitowin—a Cree word meaning love and kindness for oneself, family, and community—and featured drag queens whose performances each had unique styles, glamour and talent.
A drag house is a collective of drag performers. Some operate as a business or touring group, some are more like a chosen family. IndigiHauz, a two-spirit house, falls somewhere in between, according to Cedar T, the group’s house mother.
“IndigiHauz is best described as an Indigi-queer collective of two-spirit performance artists,” they explained.
Indigenous queer people not only face challenges of racism and prejudice from outside their community, but also homophobia and transphobia within their own nations. That’s why, Cedar T says, it’s so important to not only raise the visibility of Indigi-queer people, but to provide a place where two-spirit people can be celebrated. In the case of Sâkihitowin at Jasper Pride, that meant through drag performances which incorporate traditional cultural aesthetics.
“We’re creating a safe space for ourselves within these artistic realms, but also within a cultural setting,” Cedar T said.
Cedar T’s own journey was facilitated by such a safe space. By the time they were experimenting with professional drag, the concept for an all-Indigenous drag cast was already in the works—IndigiHauz was initially inspired by a collaboration between the non-profit social enterprise Fruit Loop and the Edmonton Two-Spirit Society. As COVID-19 forced the closure of indoor drag shows, IndigiHauz brought its performances into the bright sunshine. Coupled with a significant focus on social media, the house expanded its talent base, membership and reach. They have taken their show on the road (as far away as Yellowknife) and garnered awards, such as the Edmonton Stiletto Awards’ Best Foot Forward prize. Indigi-Queen Cedar T’s “fierce, feminine force” was a big part of IndigiHauz scooping up that honour, according to Fruit Loop organizers.
Beyond developing performances and prioritizing cultural reconnection, running a touring two-spirit drag house is no small feat. To help manage the bookings, contracts, social media management and travel—not to mention performing—recently, IndigiHauz registered as a non-profit organization.
“In a colonial world, it helps us raise the bar of our professional standard,” they said.
Finding those points of connection between Indigi-Queer communities and the colonial world is a constant challenge, Cedar T says. One of the most misunderstood element of IndigiHauz is its two-spirit identity. But two-spirit identity is not only a unique aspect of IndigiHauz—the term is used by many queer, Indigenous individuals who identify with both a masculine and feminine expression, or presentation.
“It can be used to describe sexuality, gender and spiritual identity,” Cedar T explained.
Unlike other queer terminology, two-spirit only recently started turning up in mainstream language. Coined by Cree Elder Myra Laramee in 1990, the term was a departure of typical colonial understanding of gender and sexuality, and now represents a point of connection and relation between the two communities.
“IndigiHauz’s celebration of this identity takes many forms,” Cedar T points out.
For example, some acts feature hair and costuming inspired by traditional Indigenous decor—created by either the artists themselves or by local designers (Mobilize streetwear, Helen Oro Designs and Dene Couture by Tishna Marlowe, to name a few). Other acts use music by Indigenous artists or highlight the performer’s own interpretation of two-spirit identity, Cedar T says.
While celebrating queer, Indigenous and two-spirit people is one of IndigiHauz’s main goals, off stage, IndigiHauz members place focus on reconnecting with their culture and history. After wrapping up their performances at Jasper Pride, for example, Cedar T and their fellow two-spirit house members, guided by their house Elder and Auntie, went medicine picking in British Columbia.
“It was a very healing experience,” they said.
Engaging in those traditional practices—including learning how, when and where to harvest cedar—was particularly fulfilling to the performer whose stage name is inspired by their favourite medicine and which honours capital Truth (according to Cedar, the T is also a play on the phrase “spilling the tea.” Given that the phrase generally describes gossip, Cedar uses it somewhat ironically, using it as a reminder to spread kindness and compassion).
Along with Cedar T, IndigiHauz will continue to grow as a drag house, and as a movement of Sâkihitowin: love and kindness for oneself, family, and community. To support that community, stay up to date and promote inclusive LGBTQ2S+ community programs and initiatives, follow Indigihauz and Cedar T on social media.
Jack Mastrianni // firstname.lastname@example.org