ambiente.us

DURANTE BLAIS-BILLIE
by Herb Sosa

Dante is a 23 year old Two-Spirit member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. She grew up on the Hollywood Seminole Indian Reservation
and returned after moving to Scotland to receive her MA in Art History and Management from the University of St. Andrews. She currently
serves her tribe as Cultural Ambassador and Princess under the title Miss Florida Seminole 2019-2021. She is also the proud recipient
of the 2020 Unity Coalition|Coalicion Unida's LEGENDS HONORS TRAILBLAZER AWARD.


Tell me about the Seminole Tribe of Florida… It’s origins, similarities/differences with other indigenous groups locally & nationally?  
Seminoles are from the many Indigenous people that have lived in and stewarded the South Eastern Woodlands of Turtle Island for over
thousands of years. In our tribe, we are made up of those who resisted Spanish occupation in Florida and those who fled south from the
18th-19th century American colonies. Our people were joined by Black Seminoles who escaped enslavement in the US territories.

Our communities were unified not
just by cultural beliefs and values,
but by a fierce refusal to let the US
government take our sovereignty or
displace our people. Though many
of our people were killed and taken  
through the Seminole Wars and the
Indian Removal Act, today our tribe is
the descendants of those who rooted
their resistance in the Everglades.

Though in our histories colonial
contact is a recent addition to our
stories which go back thousands
of years to our creation, the path of
resistance laid by our ancestors is
something which is paramount to
our people today. Ask any Seminole
and they will be proud to tell you
about our war leaders, matriarchs,
and soldiers who fought for us to be
in our unconquered homelands.

While our people have
the most in common
with other nations of
the South Eastern
Woodlands, our
relationship with the
Everglades gives us
many unique traditions
like palmetto fiber
dolls, alligator
wrestling, and
elaborate hairstyles
designed to shield our
faces from the sun.  
And though we don’t
have a huge Pow
Wow culture, we still
like many pan-Indian
things like frybread!

What are some of the misconceptions about growing up native American?
The most prevalent misconception is that Indigenous peoples of North America all adhere to this romanticized colonial construction of
one singular, and very watered-down, culture. Many people don’t realize that thousands of nations each with their own political relations,
knowledge systems, and cultures have been living here long before European contact.

Colonization is just a speck in our long-standing histories. Each nation has been developing their own specific community structures,
medicines, values, and customs for thousands of years. And amongst our tribes we had complex relationships to one another that were
well established by the time Europeans came.

This misconception stems from colonial powers not wanting us to hold onto the thing that shapes our differences: our tribal sovereignty.
By refusing to acknowledge Native ingenuity, complexity, and history, our humanity is then able to be refused. The simplified image of an
American Indian is perpetuated in media spanning from the first drawings of Natives in 16th century maps to Thanksgiving lessons in
American classrooms today.

While we can share values, knowledge, and goals we are all deeply complex and undeniably unique.  

At what age did you get involved in the Miss Seminole of Florida pageant, and why?
The pageant was on my radar as a really young girl. I remember waiting with my grandma in our reservation clinic and seeing the
pageant on the TV. My grandma explained that if I wanted to walk on the stage like the older girls I would need to learn my language. I
grew up only knowing common phrases and commands from my grandma, so I was fixated on the pageant being an opportunity to
overcome the daunting task of starting to actually learn. When I was sixteen I ran for my first pageant almost entirely thanks to my
reservation’s culture department for getting me started on my language journey. The pageant is something that is really embraced by our
community, so there is a great support network for anyone preparing for it.

That pageant I received the Jr Miss Florida Seminole title and served alongside my older sister Tia who was Miss. It was an incredibly eye
opening experience and it really empowered, educated, and inspired me. After that reign, I focused on attending university and I didn’t
compete in the pageant again till I graduated in 2019 when I received my current title as Miss Florida Seminole.

What are the 3 things you NEVER leave the house without, and why?
          Lipstick: It’s such a pleasure to wear lipstick and I’m always reapplying  
          Headphones: I like to daydream to music whenever I get a chance.
          Camera: Even if it’s just the one on my phone, I love sharing the things I come across throughout my day with my friends and feel
my words can never do justice!
          
Never have I ever…?
Not had room for dessert! If something sweet is offered, I cannot resist.

Two-Spirit is a contemporary English umbrella term established by Indigenous
peoples as a placeholder to refer to diverse Indigenous understandings of
gender, spirituality, and sexuality. Two-Spirit is meant to combat ideologies
like transphobia, homophobia, and misogyny that are foreign to many Native
cultures by revitalizing our traditions of gender, spiritual, and sexual diversity.
It also creates space for Native values which are denied in non-Indigenous
identities, like the importance of spirituality.













While the English term is new, what we refer to as Two-Spirit identities have been present in our nations  for thousands of years. For
some tribes that means a traditional acknowledgement of many genders each with a specific name, while for other tribes it means an
understood acceptance of those who choose to break away from binary gender expectations. In understanding Two-Spirit, it is important
to recognize its exact meaning is different for each individual based on their community traditions as well as how they identify their gender
spiritually, sexually, and socially.

Two-Spirit is hugely significant as it gives Native people agency in their own identity by choosing to present themselves through an
Indigenous perspective. It lets our people break away from the confines of colonial heteropatriarchy as well as Eurocentric ideas of
gender and sexuality. Two-Spirit claims space in our lives for Indigenous spirituality, Indigenous gender, Indigenous knowledge,
Indigenous love, and ultimately Indigenous prosperity.

You have chosen to use your platform and celebrity to educate on all things diversity – why?
My role is to represent my people by speaking of our knowledge and values. Promoting resiliency and diversity is a continuation of the
work of my ancestors. To advocate for these things feels like the natural next step whenever my mentors, community, and the world
outside of my tribe educates me.  

Being Two-Spirit I can see first hand why promoting diversity is paramount to the wellbeing of historically marginalized groups. And in
being light-skinned, non-disabled, and with the privilege of access to education, I can see why it is important that I never stop developing
accountability and solidarity to those who don’t share my privileges in a colonial heteropatriarichal society.   

Diversity brings vibrance and health to each community. Through education on marginalized perspectives and the visibility of their voices
we can heal our communities from violences like homophobia, colorism, abilism, and misogyny to name a few.

For someone that has never experienced the Everglades… please tell me why it is special to you.
The Everglades means everything. While our elders warn us of the many dangers that live amongst us in the wetlands, everyone
attributes our survival to the Everglades. Its character of being both harsh enough to fight alongside us against US capture, and its
blessings of food, medicine, and beauty goes to show the ingenuity of Breathmaker when creating our homelands.

Likewise, our people reflect that ingenuity by
adapting to each of the Everglades’ challenges
as well as learning how to care for the land as
it cares for us. While I often speak of Indigenous
land stewardship, I must also stress that the
land has also stewarded us in return. It preserves
our knowledge in its landmarks, medicinal plants,
and ceremony grounds. The prosperity of the
water, land, and life there is the prosperity of our
people. And us Indigenous communities that
have lived with the land and preserved it  are just
as paramount to its survival as it is to ours.

This has been the most unconventional and
unpredictable year (so far). How has it affected
your time as princess?
Most significantly, my role has been extended till
the summer of 2021, as my title typically reigns
for only a year which would have ended in
summer of 2020.  While unexpected, I knew I
wanted to continue serving my community after
my reign so the chance to be Princess again
aligned with the work I had already planned to
pursue.

The nature of my role now that I mainly connect
to people online allows me to be more ambitious
with the things I present and with my audience
reach. Since my in person appearances were
cancelled, myself, Jr. Miss Florida Aubee Billie,
Miccosukee tribal member Houston Cypress,
and our weekly contributors have started the
Two-Spirit Tuesdays video project on social
media. In this project we focus on education
about Two-Spirit histories, advocacy, and perspectives. The project seemed daunting as my tribe has never officially acknowledged Two-
Spirit people through any dedicated event, webinar, or panel before. In addition, video production and social media is still a new territory.  
So while I have always had agency in my role, the virtual nature of today has pushed me to be more bold and creative in advocating for the
things important to my community.

As well I think it can’t go unsaid that the reception of marginalized voices has been greatly impacted by Black Lives Matter being in
mainstream media. Undeniably Black led collectives and Black community movements like Black Lives Matter continue to pave the way
for social justice and the visibility of historically marginalized groups. While this in no way means that Black voices should not keep being
centered in this moment, those people ignorant to many social injustices across the country are now opening their eyes to new
perspectives.

What advice would you have for the next person to carry the crown, and can it be someone that does not identify as female or two-
spirited?

My advice for the next Princess would be that your reign is what you make it! The Princess Committee is a great support system to make
sure that you can commit yourself to the causes you believe in. Accountability is key in community development; luckily many tribal
institutions and local government boards (thanks Broward Cultural Division!) offer tons of opportunities for training, seminars, and
forums. Don’t be afraid to address the things that matter to our people, and take every chance to better serve our tribe.

The title Miss Florida Seminole is a continuation of our matriarchal traditions, where womxn are sacred because in our culture they are
the ones to nurture our spirits, bodies, and knowledge. That is to say if you embody that matriarch spirit within you either as a female,
gender-variant person, or Two-Spirit person, that is what is important!

You are receiving the Unity Coalition|Coalicion Unida LEGENDS Honors Award for Trailblazer of the year, for your community
advocacy. How does this make you feel?
I still can’t believe it ! It feels very surreal and I am so honored. With awards like this, I always perceive it as an award to my tribe since my
work is a reflection of all they have blessed me with. My immediate reaction is gratitude to all of my mentors and teachers. I’m so lucky to
continue sharing their knowledge of Seminole culture, Two-Spirit knowledge, Indigenous rights, and Decolonization.

The award is also an exciting opportunity to make Two-Spirit affirmation more visible. I can’t explain how much I appreciate
Unity Coalition | Coalicion Unida for advocating for Two-Spirit people through their panels, shows, and this award!  


Copyright 2020 ©  AMBIENTE MAGAZINE.  
Do not reproduce without
citing this source
Gracias|Thank
You                    Celebrating 6
Years of
.


LGBT
Latino|Hispanic
Civil Right
s
unitycoalition.org
.





AMBIENTE
ONLINE STORE
Gracias|Thank You                    
OCTOBER | 2020