AU7A8922 123f1Lady Shug and Landa Lakes at the Wagon Burners Drag Show

Chickasaw writer and seasoned performer J Miko Thomas—better known as Landa Lakes—feels like there has been a definitive shift in the drag scene over the last few years, with more Indigenous queens putting their identities into their performances. “I wanted visibility for Native people, so I chose the name Landa Lakes. It’s a tongue-in-cheek joke referencing the Indigenous mascot issue,” they say, referencing Land O Lakes butter, which quietly removed a Native woman from its packaging in 2020 (after 92 years). “I’m seeing more Indigenous performers putting themselves out there and putting their Indigeneity out there. It’s the new age of Indigenous drag.”

Helping support that movement is IllumiNative, a women-led racial and social justice organization dedicated to increasing visibility—and challenging harmful narratives—around Native people. Last August, they produced an all-Indigenous drag show in Colorado called “Wagon Burners,” a nod to Native people who burned the wagons of colonizers. Landa Lakes co-hosted the show, which featured six other Indigenous drag queens as well. “People need to see how important this is, for Indigenous people to hold space,” says Ky Victor—better known as Lady Shug—a nonbinary queer performer from the Navajo Nation. “I want to see more Indigenous kings and queens. This is our moment.”

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Victor, who was recently featured in HBO’s unscripted series We’re Here, says Thomas was the first Indigenous queen they’d ever seen. Thomas was also one of the few Indigenous performers ever to be featured on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Filling more screens and stages with Indigenous and two-spirited performers is just one of many goals being pursued by IllumiNative. The group has also spearheaded campaigns to mobilize Native voters during elections, get more Indigenous producers and writers hired in TV and film, and ensure that Native communities are protected against COVID-19. And they’re always campaigning to halt all use of Native mascots, names, and imagery in sports.

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“We want to highlight the diversity and complexity of all Native people, because they exist in all spaces,” says Lashay Wesley, the assistant director of communications and storytelling at IllumiNative. “LGBTQ+ people and two-spirit people often feel invisible even within their own communities,” says Wesley. “We want to show that not only do Native people exist, but that we also have a huge sense of pride. There is so much Indigenous excellence happening and people need to see it.”

AU7A7795 aafe7Performer at the Wagon Burner Drag Show

Victor says that by performing as their true, Indigenous self, they are strengthening the overall movement by fighting stereotypes. “I might not be the one to break the wall,” says Victor. “But I’m going to be the one chipping away at it.”

 

Photos by: KARALYN RADFORD (OGLALA LAKOTA)