Chief Al Houston (Silver Coyote) says the Greater Vancouver Native Cultural Society’s (GVNCS) annual dinner for the holidays offers members of the two-spirit community a sense of belonging at a time of year when many would otherwise be alone.
“Some of our members can’t make it home for Christmas, so the event gives them a sense of family that cares,” Houston says. “They’re fed and they’re given that embrace that says, ‘You’re not alone.’”
Houston says the annual Wagonburners event draws people from aboriginal communities across Canada and the United States. He expects to host 50 to 100 people this year and is encouraging everyone to bring a toy for donation to the Eagles Nest Preschool, which provides early education and daycare to First Nations children.
“Everyone needs help, and that’s what we do,” Houston says. “It’s not just about us; it’s about those who need us.”
Any additional funds raised will be distributed to a range of charity organizations, with a special emphasis on groups that support First Nations people.
“This is more or less an aboriginal two-spirit society taking care of our own community,” Houston says, “which is important because we feel they aren’t getting that attention from the community at large.”
“We really bring family together,” says the organization’s president, Travis Angus.
“It’s important because most people don’t have that family structure in Vancouver,” he says. “The Wagonburners’ convention is a way to unite people and get together to share tradition, break bread and meet other gay people.”
“It was a home that I needed to find,” Angus adds.
In addition to its Wagonburners’ dinner and other annual events, such as the Passing of a Legacy and Breaking of the Bannock, the GVNCS supports members who find themselves hospitalized.
The society offers a $25 grant to help hospitalized members purchase toiletries, phone cards and any personal items they may need.
The grants primarily assist First Nations people who are hospitalized with HIV/AIDS.
“It’s so they don’t feel alone,” Houston explains.
“It’s a lonely time when a person is in the hospital. Many of our members have been lonely individuals who were either shunned by their families [or] had no way of contacting their families,” he says.