As we concluded the month of June and the last of Pride celebrations for the month, I decided to take a road trip back to my reservation to cover and document the third annual Diné Pride.
The Navajo Nation is the largest sovereign reservation in the United States. I grew up on my reservation, and have always considered my tribe to be conservative and extremely religious due to the encroachment of Christian beliefs brought onto our tribal community. But as a tribal person and a supporter of equality, I feel obligated to share the amazing achievements our Navajo LGBTQ2S individuals are striving towards — which aim to generate an inclusive community within the Navajo Nation.
On Friday, June 28, 2019, the Diné Pride kicked off their two-day celebration in Window Rock, Arizona. The first day started with a symposium at the Navajo Nation Museum with remarks from Alray Nelson, chief operating officer of Diné Pride, and a welcome prayer from Andy Nez, founder and executive director of Diné Pride along with Sheridan Cowboy, the Diné Pride symposium director.
The theme this year was “Sacredness Before Stonewall” to reaffirm and acknowledge the history of Navajo LGBTQ2S since time immemorial.
The day consisted of sessions about Transgender Healthcare led by Dr. Jennie Wei, Overdose Prevention Training by Juliana Willars, and Connecting the Purpose: My Transgender Lifestyle by Sheridan Cowboy.
There were also additional panels throughout the day such as Trans Visibility moderated by Sheridan Cowboy, Big Thoughts from Queer and Lesbian Diné Women moderated by Keioshiah Peter and Sovereign Nations, LGBTQ+in Leadership moderated by Souksavanh Keovorabouth. All were very informative and inspirational.
Click here for more info: Dine Pride Schedule.
After the symposium, the festivities moved to the Navajo Nation Council Chamber for the welcome reception and queer showcase and where for the first time ever, Pride and Trans flags flew together with the Navajo Nation flag.
The evening concluded with a finale showcasing for the first time ever the “Pride Rainbow” lighting on the Navajo Nation Council Chambers, bringing many emotions to the attendees, including myself. For me, and many Navajo LGBTQ2S family and friends, it showed a path towards an inclusiveness that can happen with the Navajo Nation.
These sentiments were also shared by Sam Damon, a Navajo Nation Council Speaker of the House, who said, “Change is needed with the Navajo Nation government’s enactment of the Marriage Act.”
On Saturday, June 29th the day kicked off with a “Be Proud” color run where participants ran a 5k as part of the days’ festivities. The Diné Pride festival consisted of many booths with information about protective sex, vendors with pride memorabilia, and art by local LGBTQ2S individuals. There were also a few food vendors serving some Navajo tacos.
The festivities started and we were ready for a day full of entertainment ranging from traditional Navajo music to Drag Queen performances that followed with Diné Pride Champions & Pride before Stonewall acknowledgments.
The top honor was given to the internationally acclaimed former principal dancer for the New York City Ballet and Diné Pride’s Navajo Champion award honoree Jock Soto, who shared a very inspirational acceptance speech.
There was plenty to enjoy at the pride event. For a brief moment, I was able to meet and speak with Alray Nelson, the founder of the Diné Pride and also a Diné grass-roots activist, who established the Diné Equality organization that is aiming to change the Diné Marriage Act.
What makes Diné Pride different than other pride events?
“Our community members chose the theme — Sacredness Before Stonewall — to acknowledge the sacredness of LGBTQ+ identities since time in immemorial while also remembering the trans women of color who lead the Stonewall riots in New York City 50 years ago. Diné Pride is our way of indigenizing and decolonizing a celebration that is not corporate-bought or disconnected from communities of color.”
What is the traditional belief that the Navajo’s have with the LGBTQ community?
“Our Diné LGBTQ+ family members have existed since our creation. Our oral stories share a time when our trans women were clan leaders, our lesbian women were fierce warriors, our gay men were caretakers and healers, and we co-existed in harmony with everyone in the community. That has changed because of Christianity, religion, boarding schools, and the foreign invasion of Europeans.”
What is the relationship with the Navajo Government and Diné Equality?
“Diné Equality has grown into one of the largest LGBTQ+ organizations in the country that is advocating for our Indigenous communities. In 2013, my partner Brennen and I brought together our close friends to begin a movement that would hold tribal leaders accountable and push forward the political agenda of our LGBTQ+ family members.
"Today, Diné Equality is working with several lawmakers on the Navajo Nation Council to pass legislation that would repeal the discriminatory 2005 Diné Marriage Act that prohibits same-sex unions and a comprehensive hate crimes prevention law that would expand LGBTQ+ protections.”
Who are the individuals (including you) that made this a successful year?
Alray Nelson, Pride Founder & Chief Operating Officer
Andy Nez, Pride Founder & Executive Director
Brennen Yonnie, Board of Director, VIP Relations
Steven Nez, Board of Director, Secretary
Curtis Berry, Board of Director, Operations
Thomas Martinez, Board of Director, Entertainment
Rapheal Begay, Board of Director, Social Media
Sheridan Cowboy, Board of Director, Symposium
Mariah Lizer, Board of Director, Membership
Why did you choose Window Rock for the event?
“Window Rock is a sacred site and the capital of the Navajo Nation. This is the political center for everyday Navajo life and the appropriate location for Diné Pride — we are sending a message to Navajo leaders that this is our government too and we are reclaiming it.”
Why was the theme Sacredness Before Stonewall?
"We were always sacred even before Stonewall and how American history forgets the Indigenous LGBTQ+ experience.”
“We accept donations online for both pages. All proceeds go to our community work and the Navajo LGBTQ+ Student Scholarship Fund.”
The entire day was fun. We did encounter some rain, but to Navajo people rain is good and our Mistress of Ceremony Mattee Jim kept our spirits up.
The day also consisted of a surprise wedding between lesbian couple Ophelia and Bonnie Shondee which I personally saw as resistance against the tribe’s Marriage Act.
In closing, I want to add that the Navajo people — Diné, as we call ourselves — have been able to maintain, reclaim and reincorporate our traditions and beliefs despite colonization.
“We are the people.”
Till next year’s Diné Pride…and remember we are all nihi k’e.
This story was first published on Medium.
Pamela Peters is a Navajo multimedia documentarian. Rez born and Los Angeles-based. Writer, photographer, filmmaker, poet and connoisseur of frybread. Reach Peters: @TachiiniiPhotography