Scholar Elevates Queer, Indigenous in Oregon

It’s hard to believe Candi Brings Plenty (she/her/hers) only moved to Portland four years ago in search of community. In that short time, she’s become a prominent leader in Portland’s LGBTQ and Two Spirit community. Currently, Candi serves as the Executive Director of the Equi Institute, an LGBTQ specific health center, is a Pride Foundation Scholar* Alumnus, and is also President of the Portland Two Spirit Society.

After moving to Portland, though, Candi found herself struggling to adjust to the change.

“Coming from a rural community and growing up on the reservation, I had a hard time seeing my face in the city of Portland and finding community being a queer, indigenous woman,” she told me.

She began working as a community health worker at Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), further developing her leadership in the Native community while working to include, more wholly, the Two Spirit identity within NAYA’s mission and vision.

While both working and attending school to pursue her Master’s degree, Candi took on a leadership role within the Portland Two Spirit Society, a group for LGBTQI Native American/Alaska Natives to come together to share, connect, and reclaim and restore culture, community, and the traditional roles of Two Spirit people.

In June of 2015, when the group didn’t have funds available to participate in Portland’s Pride parade, she took on the leadership as director, she advocated on their behalf, creating a long-term strategic plan with the ultimate goal of the Portland Two Spirit Society reclaiming their sacred space for the Portland Pride Parade by offering a traditional protocol blessing before the parade, ultimately, brining visibility that the City of Portland is marching on Indigenous lands.

Candi spent the next six months building connections and partnerships within the community. She reconvened the membership of the Two Spirit Society, hosting a meeting that was attended by more than 60 community members. She shared her vision for the future of the Two Spirit society and her goals for the future: unity and visibility—something she deeply desired when she first moved to Portland.

This past year, Candi approached the board of Pride Northwest—the organization that hosts and organizes Portland’s annual Pride Festival. Her initial intentions were for the organization to allow the Portland Two Spirit Society to merely provide a blessing at the beginning of the parade, while also having a prominent, visible presence in the day’s activities.

Pride Northwest responded with a different offer—the Portland Two Spirit Society would serve as the Grand Marshall for the parade.

When asked about the cause of the recent Native and Two Spirit prominence in many community events in Portland, Candi’s response was that it was because of their increased visibility and the unwavering support of local government leaders. She explained that having buy-in and support from Multnomah County Chair, Deborah Kafoury, allowed the group to be present at recent events—including Indigenous Peoples’ Day—and provide blessings at various ribbon-cutting and visibility-raising events throughout the county.

As for what is next for the Portland Two Spirit Society, Candi told me that she hopes that the confidence and momentum of this visibility will carry the group forward, to continue building leadership within the group and that they have plans to be present at even more community events in the future. They also hope to continue acting as a resource for other Two Spirit groups across the country, such as the Two Spirit camp at Standing Rock Sacred Stone Camp, protecting sacred water and putting out a call to action (Click here for more information).

Through all of this progress, Candi continues to be driven by what she originally came to Portland in search of: a world where queer indigenous people see themselves within the communities they call home.

*The Pride Foundation scholarship application opens to students on October 10, 2016. Through just one application, LGBTQ and allied students are entered into consideration for more than 50 scholarships that award more than $400,000 each year.

Kim Sogge is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Oregon. Email Kim.

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