Creating a Sense of Community for Indigenous Queers at IAIA

By: KATHARINA DEITER

The Indigenous Queers Plus club (IQ+) is a safe space for those who identify as queer people of color on campus. Despite the term “Indigenous” in the title, Emma DeMarr, public relations officer for the club, said that this club is also an open and accepting place for allies and those of European descent.  

Anangikwe (Maria) Fairbanks, vice president of IQ+ added that the club is a place for people to feel safe about being open and sharing their experiences.

“Having a queer identity describes a person who does not conform to accepted societal standards of gender binary and/or sexual preference,” said DeMarr. This includes those who fall outside the Western norm of cisgender and heterosexual. DeMarr, for example, prefers the pronoun “their/them” rather than a gender-identifying pronoun.

Queer identity, or two-spiritedness, is an identity long accepted by Indigenous cultures, but only recently is gaining acceptance in modern culture with the legalization of gay marriage in the United States on June 26, 2015.

IAIA Cultivates a Sense of Community  

Without its mission to cultivate a sense of community and Indigenous values, IAIA would simply be just another school, according to DeMarr

DeMarr who is of Ojibwe and Shawnee descent, describes their experience at IAIA as “crazy,” in a good way.

“It’s definitely opened my whole worldview,” said DeMarr. “The leadership positions I’ve taken in IQ and the performing arts wouldn’t have been possible without the openness of the school and the community.

Anangikwe (Maria) Fairbanks, is of Ojibwe descent as well and is also Assiniboine. They identify as genderqueer. Genderqueer is a gender identity that generally refers to not identifying as male or female.

“Being [at IAIA] is about learning about other people and discovering yourself along the way,” said Fairbanks, ”You learn to take pride in who you are as opposed to the outside world where you might be a little more afraid of expressing your culture.”

Fairbanks described being bullied as a child for talking about her culture, explaining that many children would look down on them as a result of harmful Native stereotypes.

“I actually believed them for a really long time. This school is breaking down the stereotypes that were built within me before I came here.”

DeMarr and Fairbanks feel decolonizing and queer identity go hand in hand. The sense of community created by IQ+ is decolonizing in itself, they said.

Decolonizing by Embracing Identity

“Decolonizing to me means rejecting a Eurocentric and Westernized view of the world,” said DeMarr. “It ties in a lot with my queer identity because it rejects the patriarchy. Embracing a queer identity in and of itself can be an act of decolonizing.”

They feel hierarchal and patriarchal ideas are only relevant because of Western societal viewpoints keeping them alive. “Living more honestly and being a more open and accepting person is an act of decolonizing to me.”

Fairbanks added, “I guess it’s like re-evaluating yourself and [connecting] with your ancestors and learning from them. It’s not going all the way back to tradition, but it’s incorporating their values in your life.”

Hope for the Future

“The purpose of IQ plus was to create a space for queer people of color only,” said Fairbanks, ”Eventually we made it so other people could sit down with us because this is where we have our own safe place.

“We are marginalized,” they added, “This is a space for community where people can be open and share their feelings. I feel it’s decolonizing because we’re learning about other people and their queer identity and learning to grow from our struggles together.”

“I just hope that our original teachings and original ”˜chill’ as Native peoples will be pushed more by the efforts made by this generation,” said DeMarr.

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