(Puyallup, Muckleshoot, Nooksack)
Brandi Douglas (She/They) is a member of the Puyallup Tribe, a descendent of the Muckleshoot and Nooksack Nations and is Mexican and Black American. They currently reside on traditional Puyallup Tribal territory in Tacoma, Washington. Brandi is a multidisciplinary artist, whose works are inspired by their intersectional experience as a queer, multiracial, neurodivergent person.
They are a published writer, having been featured in We Need A Reckoning, an anthology showcasing the voices of women and non-binary people of color. Brandi currently works in the communications department at NDN Collective, an Indigenous power-building organization.
What does it mean to be sovereign if we aren’t utilizing that self-governing power to protect, uplift and honor our most vulnerable community members? We need to ensure our communities are dedicated to creating safe and supportive environments in preparation of the generations of queer and Two Spirit people to come.
I need us to be kept in mind as our leaders continue to advocate for Indigenous rights and protections because this nation has proven, giving sweeping anti-LGBTQIA+ (especially anti-trans) legislation, that LGBTQIA+ people are not valued. We need to continue to make visible the presence, power and beauty of Two Spirit and Indigenous queer peoples, while also committing to protecting and advocating for them.
I wanna see LGBTQIA+ individuals in our newspapers, in our media, and highlighted in different fields, having initiated change within our Tribal communities, because we are and have always been at the forefront of community efforts.
Bottom line is we need to open up conversation. Like sitting in a room and having dialogue in different spaces within our tribal communities. I don't want LGBTQIA+ Pride to exist and happen and then we don't talk about this community for the other 364 days of the year.
At the same time, I have experience going into non-Native communities as a queer Indigenous person and it's not always an ideal space. You have to gauge if it's safe enough for you and then you might have to remove yourself. I've done that a lot in predominantly white queer spaces as a queer multiracial person.
Then we can start talking about Native-izing a queer future as well, which looks like us going into non-Native spaces as queer people and having conversations. Making ourselves visible there as well.
I would love for this coordination to happen between different tribal communities where we engage in open dialogue around the existence of queer people. There are 574+ federally-recognized tribes, not to mention those without federal recognition. What if we just set off a domino effect of conversations? Queer people exist in all of those communities, so let’s normalize it.
A [Two Spirit] future means coming back and remembering these things and actively choosing to document so that the next generation doesn't have to be in this similar place of “But did we exist?” Queer and Two Spirit people existed. The fact that I don't have that to recall makes me feel weird and alone. How do I exist then? I can't exist without having queer relatives. I don't know if that means we didn't exist or if there was no word for us.
I would like to know, historically, how we were identified as a means of staying true to my tribe’s traditions, culture, and language. Queering a Native future has to do with remembering. When my tribe was like, “We didn't have Two Spirit people,” (or something similar) I thought, they'd forgotten. We did exist, and maybe it wasn't written down or kept in some book or document or oral history, but that doesn't mean we weren't there.
I remember we were planning our first Pride in 2019 and we had the Language Department in the room. I talked about the term “Two Spirit” and they said we didn't have Two Spirit people, or at least our Tribe didn’t identify people separately in this way. I was like, okay, that makes sense because not all tribes use that term, but they might have their own terms. Yet, what I was hearing is we didn't exist.
The term “Pride” (for Two Spirit and LGBTQI+ Pride) does not exist in our language (Puyallup) in the way Western society uses it. I'm really comfortable with the term queer. It fits and it's not too narrow for me. I also identify as Two Spirit. But my tribe does not have a term for that.
As I aged and gained more wisdom, I understand I'm tasked to do something, especially for the generations to come.
Coming into my thirties—and right now I'm 37– but before that, I don't think I had a lot of confidence in who I was as a queer person. I wasn't aware of all the issues we were facing outside of my own.
I wasn’t aware, but when I started to cultivate that awareness, it made me remember how much of a queer community existed and how, as a queer and a Two Spirit person, I was tasked to be in the know and to be a part of protecting that.
When I was younger I didn't care about that. I was like, I'm not gonna advocate, I'm here to party.
Then in undergrad, I was in an L.G.B.T. group. We were going around in a circle and I was so excited because I know who I am: “I'm Brandi. I identify as a lesbian.” Then a person to my left went next and they said, “I'm queer.” I was so confused because what is that supposed to mean? I was unraveling this term that I'd never used. But as I got older, I started identifying as queer because I felt I was in such a small box when I was using the term “lesbian.”
When I first came out, I was only familiar with the term L.G.B.T. That was [all the letters of the acronym] at the time. <Laughs> So okay, I’m a lesbian. I came out at 16 and I was attracted to another woman in one of my classes and we ended up dating. I was like, I’m a lesbian based on this scenario.
All my friends were like, you're stupid.
But, um, yeah, 16, and just coming into these feelings, I ended up telling my friends. I was terrified to say I like this [other girl] and I wrote letters to each of my friends and I was like, “Hey, I gotta share something with you.” I gave them letters and walked away. And in my letter, of course, I was like, “You don't have to be my friend anymore if you are uncomfortable with who I am.”
But, back to my story— I was just going with the cis heterosexual agenda until I wasn't anymore. So, truly, at 16 I had my first partner. I remember those feelings started coming up. And who am I supposed to tell this to? I'm not gonna tell my parents. My parents didn't even want me to date anyone. Period. It didn't matter if it was a boy, but definitely not a girl. <Laughs>
I don't have a story similar to a lot of queer people when they just knew. I didn’t know there was an attraction to the “opposite sex.” Right? And just to mention, at the time, I didn’t understand the expansiveness of gender and how the gender binary is a colonial construct. In the present day, I embrace my Two Spirit identity as a challenge to that construct and honor that in others.