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Love medicine

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The Rogue River Room at Southern Oregon University's Stevenson Union filled with more than 100 people of various ages Wednesday night to celebrate queer indigenous identity at "Love Medicine: Reclaiming our Sacred Power."

SOU freshman Veronica Green summed it up with a line in their original poem, "It's hard to be a queer-ass Indian in this Trump-dominated world."

There were many powerful statements like this made throughout the evening, some less political and some more so, but every single word fell upon rapt ears.

The audience gobbled up the presentations as if they were famished despite the buffet-style dinner before them.

The perimeter of the room was lined with local organizations, art and educational materials created by the Queer Indigenous Studies Class, which coordinated the evening.

As attendees milled about collecting gifts the students made, a representative from Rogue Climate asked for signatures on a petition opposing the Jordan Cove natural gas pipeline.

Once everyone was seated with a plate of food, three nationally recognized queer indigenous artists took the stage. One of the three, Hawane Rios from Waimea, Hawaii, told stories of standing at the front line of protest to protect Mauna Kea, a sacred mountain which is soon to be the home of the largest telescope in the Northern Hemisphere.

It was there that she found her first love in a woman. She described how her people believe the mountain is linked to their ancestry because it was formed by sky father and the manifestation of Earth mother, how the mountain is so closely linked to her community that many would die to save it, and how the Hawaii Supreme Court approved the project anyway.

In a coincidence, Wednesday was Mt. Mauna Awareness Day.

She told of arrests of people she loved dearly who were protesting. She described the community as torn because some of the arresting officers were members of her community who did not want to fight their own people.

She said there were many queer indigenous people protecting the mountain. In some indigenous cultures there is an umbrella term for a dual-gendered entity, “Two Spirit.” They are treated with honor for the ability, or at least they used to be, before colonization. Historically, native cultures focused on the quality of relationships, not the gender of the person someone loves, according to SOU student Avram Sacks.

A Two Spirit can call upon both feminine and masculine energies and is a powerful entity in some eyes.

“So many two-spirited people were on the mountain,” Rios said, adding they provided balance in a time when the community was so torn.

Rios sang two songs she wrote in honor of the mountain and her people’s protest, accompanied by her acoustic guitar.

She thanked the audience for their support and said that when she is called upon to help protest the pipeline, she will come back and stand with Oregon the way the audience stood with her in solidarity to protect her land.

“From mountain to mountain and water to water,” Rios said. “Thanks for being who you are and loving who you love. There is medicine in that.”

Ryan Young, an Ojibwe native, is Two Spirited. Young has experimented with nearly every artistic medium possible.

They shared a slideshow presentation describing their evolution of artwork over the years. Although the media changed drastically from projections to screen-printing and everything in between, the heart of the work remained the same — empowering and representing the Two Spirit people and ultimately working to rebuild the relationship between culture and queerness that existed in many native communities before colonization.

Phrases were splashed atop some of their pieces, such as “My gender is indigenous” and “The Creator is Two Spirit.”

Young mentioned the old argument of “What gender is the higher power?”

“I’m pretty sure they’ve transcended that and are worried about other things,” Young said.

They said their art helped them to not feel so alone in an alienating society.

Young said they want their art to remind people they can change the dynamic of a room just by walking into it, and that’s how much power they hold within themselves.

An art installation by an anonymous artist took up one section of the room. The art paid homage to the ReDress project calling attention to the death and disappearance of hundreds of Native American women.

The artist asked to remain anonymous because they plan to take the project to the streets of contemporary cities around the country to keep the conversation flowing.

Tommy Pico, one of the performers, grew up on the Viejas Indian reservation of the Kumeyaay nation near San Diego and is now an award-winning author and poet. He read a few original poems on the struggles of identifying as a queer indigenous person.

“You can’t be an Indian person in today’s culture and write a nature poem,” Pico said.

Pico entertained the crowd with his mix of culturally raw yet provocatively modern poetry as he read from his book “Nature Poem.”

Chair and assistant professor of Native American studies Brook Colley said most students don’t know much about either queer or indigenous people when they start the Queer Indigenous Studies Class, and when those topics are combined, it’s an even less-recognized subject. But by the end of the course, the students compile various educational resources for the community and put together the Queer Indigenous Gathering event.

“It’s really incredible what these students do,” Colley said.

Louise Paré, an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute instructor who teaches a Native American women changemaker’s course, has attended the event the last four years.

“I was blown away by what the students were doing and the quality of the performers,” Paré said.

“And, of course, the food is always good.”

She said she uses the zines, resource booklets created by the students, and other materials from the event as inspiration for her class.

Teaching assistant Torrey Hazelquist said the first time they took the course they were inspired to be a better person and a better activist.

“This class changed everything I thought I knew,” Hazelquist said.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Students of the SOU Queer Indigenous course explain the importance of the annual gathering event and nationally recognize queer Indigenous guests perform.{ }Ashland Tidings / Caitlin FowlkesThumbnail
Photo courtesy of Torrey HazelquistThe Rogue River Room at Stevenson Union was filled Wednesday night with more than 100 guests attending the Queer Indigenous Gathering event.