HuffPost Her Stories: Meet The Powwow Dancer Smashing Gender Norms

Plus: Women prisoners in the U.K. are still being released into homelessness.
Nenookaasi Ogichidaa identifies as two-spirit and has embodied that in their powwow dancing.
Nenookaasi Ogichidaa identifies as two-spirit and has embodied that in their powwow dancing.

Dear reader,

Nenookaasi Ogichidaa identifies as two-spirit, an umbrella term that indigenous people from North America use to describe their place on a spectrum of genders and sexualities.

The mental wellness navigator, who works with black and indigenous communities in Ontario, Canada, goes by two sets of gender pronouns: they, their and them, as well as she and her. For them, it was important to be identified by both sets as they navigate our gender-normative world in a fluid way, and as a way to embody their two-spirit identity.

Nenookaasi (or Neno for short) is also a powwow dancer. Powwows are traditional social gatherings in many Native American communities that allow people to come together to celebrate age-old traditions. And nothing says powwow like the Fancy Dance – a ubiquitous staple of these gatherings. But the dance is also strictly gendered – there’s one version for men and another for women.

For Neno, who loved dancing, the gender confinement of powwows was stifling: the expectation that men and women could only perform certain dances and wear certain outfits. And slowly, they realized the binary world they were forced into didn’t promote their well-being and they stopped dancing altogether.

But when HuffPost Canada reporter Al Donato meets Neno, who is one of 24 LGBTQ+ change-makers being profiled for HuffPost’s global pride project – “Proud Out Loud” – they are wearing a yellow shawl they found on the street, blooming with fiery wings that trails into fringes. On their feet are handmade moccasins, decorated with flames and enforced with reclaimed leather from couches. Underneath the fancy shawl – typical of the women’s powwow dance – Neno wears a black hoodie, emblazoned with the words “Resilient And Relentless.”

In a bid to break free from the confines of gender norms and represent their gender fluidity, Neno is wearing both male and female regalia, and after three years of no dancing, they are back, dressed to the nines and ready to dance to the big drum. “I missed this so much,” they say.

They are still processing what their complete two-spirit, powwow regalia will look like, and until then, Neno is diverting their energies to community organizing and educating others about their cultures.

It’s this unrelenting authenticity that makes Neno such a beacon for others – especially for black Native Americans, according to Donato: “Whatever responsibility they inhabit, be it at a powwow or a nation-wide Pride advisory, they carve out space for their most authentic self.

“Canadian LGBTQ representation has historically and continues to leave out two-spirit contributions. Neno’s plurality of identity — black, indigenous and Ukrainian; queer, two-spirit, and polyamorous; partner, parent, and puppy mom — exists without compromising on any of them, which we love.”

We hope you’ll enjoy this spotlight on just one of the many inspiring voices that make up HuffPost’s “Proud Out Loud.” Our heroes span the globe — from the U.K. to Korea to Canada and beyond — and they cut across identities and professions and passions. Read the full series of profiles here.

Signing off from our London HQ.

Until next time,


For more on LGBTQ+ issues in Canada, follow HuffPost’s @AlDonato

Mim Skinner used to be shocked to see women prisoners released onto the streets with nowhere to go. But after working as an art teacher in a women’s prison, her shock was quickly replaced with resignation and disappointment. Mim is this week’s contributor to HuffPost U.K.’s “The Case I Can’t Forget” – a series that hears from those working at the coal face of public service about the cases they’ve carried with them throughout their careers. In this poignant episode, Mim remembers Catherine, a 19-year-old inmate who was usually the life and soul of the prison classroom. But as she prepared for her imminent release, Catherine also steeled herself to return to the abuse and homelessness that being incarcerated had sheltered her from. An eye-opening read.

Sintu Bagui identifies as a transgender woman and was recently appointed as a local judge in her community.
Sintu Bagui identifies as a transgender woman and was recently appointed as a local judge in her community.

Sintu Bagui was 14 when she dropped out of school and started working in a plywood factory. Her hands were red raw by the end of the day but anything was better than having to wear a boy’s uniform and use the boys’ washroom. Her mother, a sex worker who lived in a red-light area, was devastated – she had hoped for a better life for Bagui and was unable to accept Bagui’s gender expression. It was only after her mother’s death that Bagui started to wear a sari and jewelry for the first time. Bagui identifies as a transgender woman and while India decriminalized gay sex in 2018, transgender individuals still face discrimination, social stigma and violence. But she’s unrelenting in raising the visibility of the community and was recently appointed a local judge in her community. Bagui is profiled here by HuffPost India’s Piyasree Dasgupta for “Proud Out Loud.” From the factory floor to a seat on the court, there’s no doubt that Bagui is an LGBTQ+ change-maker.

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