Smokii Sumac read from his book You Are Enough: Love Poems for the End of the World at Touchstones Nelson on Sept. 3. On the wall from left: Alone Time 16 and Alone Time 9 by JJ Levine. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Smokii Sumac read from his book You Are Enough: Love Poems for the End of the World at Touchstones Nelson on Sept. 3. On the wall from left: Alone Time 16 and Alone Time 9 by JJ Levine. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Ktunaxa poet reads at Touchstones Nelson for parade-less Pride week

Smokii Sumac describes himself as two-spirit, transmasculine, and a member of the Ktunaxa Nation

This is the second year in a row that Nelson’s Pride parade has been cancelled because of COVID-19, but the event’s spirit and history are being celebrated at a museum exhibit.

“That is super, super sad,” Kootenay Pride’s Stephanie Myers said about the parade. She added Nelson’s parade, unlike others she’s seen, has no clear line between participants and watchers.

“They are there for the same reason. It’s sad not to have that big community hug.”

But the lack of a parade, she said, might give the newly opened Kootenay Pride exhibit at Touchstones Nelson more impact.

Kootenay Pride: We Love a Parade explores the history of the LGBTQ2S+ movement in the Kootenays since the 1960s, with photos, video, news clippings and historical timelines.

“They can support us by going in and learning about the history,” Myers said, “which is partly about the struggle of getting the parade in the first place.”

Michael Wicks and friend at the entrance to Gallery B at Touchstones Nelson, which hosts Kootenay Pride: We Love a Parade until Oct. 30. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Michael Wicks and friend at the entrance to Gallery B at Touchstones Nelson, which hosts Kootenay Pride: We Love a Parade until Oct. 30. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Kootenay Pride’s Michael Wicks told the Nelson Star that the exhibit is a tribute to those who, over the decades, “have created this archive by daily actions, by daily commitment to liberation, daily commitment to our community.”

On Sept 3, the poet Smokii Sumac performed in the Touchstones gallery for Kootenay Pride.

Sumac describes himself as two-spirit, transmasculine, and a member of the Ktunaxa Nation who grew up in Invermere. He says he is striving to change the world for Ktunaxa people as well as for two-spirit and queer people.

“I want to restore our relations with each other, with the land and with our children. That is the goal,” he told the Nelson Star at Touchstones after performing a reading from his book You Are Enough: Love Poems for the End of the World.

Smokii Sumac reading at Touchstones Nelson with Alone Time 11 by JJ Levine. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Smokii Sumac reading at Touchstones Nelson with Alone Time 11 by JJ Levine. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

He explained that because his reading was part of two Kootenay Pride exhibitions at the gallery, he chose to read mostly poems about love and sex.

“I do write sexy poems,” he said, “but they are not representative of the whole book. There are seven sections in the book: some on grief, addiction, ceremony, colonialism.”

Smokii Sumac with Alone Time 9 by JJ Levine at the Touchstones Nelson gallery. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Smokii Sumac with Alone Time 9 by JJ Levine at the Touchstones Nelson gallery. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

During the reading Sumac exuded an air of congenial good humour.

“What am I happy about? To be Ktunaxa. To be in my beautiful territory and it is a beautiful place. We have a happy song that we sing and I sing that song a lot. My elders taught me that when we sing that song we ask for happiness to come.

“One of my elders said, ‘I have been through hell, so why wouldn’t I be happy now to be out of it?’”

Sumac performed his poems in a room hung with large-format portraits by JJ Levine, a Montreal photographer who, according to his artist statement, photographs “my friends, lovers and siblings in my LGBTQ community.”

Many of the photos in the exhibit, entitled Alone Time/Queer Portraits, depict apparently male-female couples. Close examination reveals that in some of the portraits the same model appears as both the man and the woman in the same frame.

“(This) is intended to confuse and amuse the viewer,” Levine writes, “and urge the audience to problematize preconceived notions of gender binary and heteronormativity.”

Kootenay Pride: We Love a Parade and Alone Time/Queer Portraits runs at Touchstones Nelson until Oct. 30.

Related: Exploring gender, sex, and the history of Pride at Touchstones

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