By Julia Peterson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix 

Dozens of young two-spirit people have come to Saskatchewan this week — from near and far, representing communities all across the country — for the first national two-spirit youth conference, held at Dakota Dunes Resort.

The conference, organized by the 2 Spirits in Motion Society (2SIMS), featured notable speakers including Jomarie Einish and fashion designer Scott Wabano.

For Angelina Perea, 2SIMS co-national youth council coordinator and an Afro-Indigenous two-spirit person, seeing the conference come together after so many months of planning was a moving experience.

“I feel warm,” said Perea. “I feel happy. I feel like I want to cry. Chosen family is family, and I’m glad that this is my community. I’m glad that so many people from across Turtle Island have gathered here.”

The idea for a national youth conference came from members of 2SIMS’s youth council, who wanted the chance to meet other young two-spirit people and learn about topics like entrepreneurship, Indigiqueer social justice and the impacts of gender-based violence.

For Perea, the conference is also a chance to send a hopeful message to the people in attendance, and to every young two-spirit person who hears about it.

“You’re not alone,” they said. “There’s people like you out there; you’ve just got to come and find us. And when you do, everything will make sense. There’s a reason that you’re here. You’ll find your family.”

Denita Gladeau, Perea’s fellow co-leader on the youth council, said events like this give young people a chance to celebrate being who they are. When Gladeau was growing up, she didn’t see many spaces to be freely and authentically two-spirit — and for communities to be healthy, as well as for the well-being of young two-spirit people themselves, that has to change, she said.

“It’s all about planting that seed. If you’re not planting that seed, how do you expect something to grow out of it?

“And to the two-spirit youth: keep doing your thing. Who cares what people have to say about you? At the end of the day, you’re the one taking care of yourself, and you’re going to be the leader one day. So be the legacy you want to be known for.”

After the conference, 2SIMS also organized a ‘glitter gayla,’ featuring a dance party and drag performances from Mia Beretta, Ivanna Beer, Roxie Roller and Chelazon Leroux.

Lydia Toorenburgh, performing as drag king Riel Deadly, will open the show.

For Toorenburgh, who is Bungi-Métis, being a drag king has been an important part of the two-spirit journey.

“I realized, after speaking with one of my Elders about my two-spirit identity, that drag was actually a window into becoming my cultural identity as a two-spirit person,” they said. “It wasn’t just about fun and general curiosity. (So) I celebrate my identity, and encourage others to do so, through drag.”

And Toorenburgh says the conference, which blends a day of education and networking with a night of dancing and drag, is a true celebration of what it means to be a young two-spirit person today.

“When we talk about historically marginalized groups, so much of it is about our pain and suffering,” they said. “And some of the panels today are talking about that — and that’s super important. It’s truth and reconciliation, right? We have to know the truth before we can move forward.

“But I think, as millennials and Gen Z, we know how hard it is to live in today’s world. We know how much is wrong. And so we have to bring in celebration to keep our spirits high and to keep ourselves resilient and invested in that good work.”

(Top Photo: Paulie Poitras, Marissa Moar, Melanie Baldwin, Angelina Perea and Denita Gladeau (L-R) stand for a photo during a two-spirit youth conference at Dakota Dunes resort and casino.

Michelle Berg/Saskatoon StarPhoenix.)