Every year on the Saturday closest to July 4th, the village of Tokeland Washington, (population 300) hosts a homegrown parade that is as nostalgic as a Norman Rockwell painting. Aging Legionnaires carry American flags. Children ride decorated bicycles. Flatbed floats ferry everything from costumed pets to the Pacific County Fair Princess and her court. Over the years, I’ve been both a spectator and a
participant. This year, after walking in the historic Seaside 1st Pride, I was inspired. Why not bring some pride to the Tokeland parade? Meanwhile, on the nearby Shoalwater Bay Reservation, tribal member Sabina Harris was planning to do the same thing. We invited others to join us. On the morning of the parade, our group of eight lined up behind the Vacation Bible School’s “Sweet Freedom” float. I drove my vintage Karmann Ghia, my “copilot”, Mary Downs, waved a large Pride flag out the window. In front of us, Harris, in a pink flamingo costume and her cousin Risa Thomas--as a huge inflatable unicorn-- tossed candy to the crowds. Five others from the tribal and Tokeland community walked alongside holding One Love signs or carrying rainbow flags. Not everyone cheered, but that came as no surprise.
Pride and Prejudice
In recent years, there’s been a visible presence of oppressive, right-wing signage in Tokeland. Mary and I putted the Ghia past a cluster of spectators in folding chairs. Although they had clapped for the previous entrants, they stared at us, unsmiling. Behind them a sign read, “Don’t Blame Me I voted for Trump.” Directly across the road a “Let’s Go Bandon” (translation: F*ck Biden) banner fluttered on a chain link fence. Last summer, a Confederate flag had been flown here.
“It didn’t used to be that way,” my rider said. Mary age 69, grew up here. Her father, Earl Davis Sr, was the first elected chairman of the Shoalwater Bay tribe. “Tokeland was a small fishing village where everyone knew each other. We all needed each other, so everyone's personal life was overlooked or not even spoke of --- living together without marriage; drinking problems or partners of the same sex.” Mary waved to the crowd, calling a few people by name. “I’m proud to be a part of supporting Gay Pride -- from my native tradition being gay is no reason to be an outcast or looked down upon but it is one where these particular individuals are respected. They hold knowledge beyond what most of us understand. We need to promote tolerance.”
Overall, the crowd was appreciative. Parents took photos of their children with the unicorn. Spectators clapped, whooped, waved flags---or quietly smiled. I realized our visibility could send a positive message to others in the crowd.
Tokeland’s Got Pride
After the parade, I posted photos on Facebook, including one from Tokeland’s first parade in 1979. (See photo) A barrage of negative emojis and comments followed.
"There were no gay pride flags around then, I'll tell you that much. The chief wouldn't have stood for that garbage."
I shared the comment with Harris. “I can only assume that it was a non-native who wrote that. They didn’t know who our chief was back then, cause it aint that person that’s sitting there, [on the Cadillac]. No, we didn’t have Pride flags. But we most certainly had gay people. And Natives hold their two-spirited people in high regard. Not everybody is special enough to be blessed with two spirits. If you carry two spirits, you have the insight of the male and female side. So, if we did have gay pride flags back then, they would’ve been strutting them.”
Another comment read: "Tokeland's got pride. WHAT A WAY TO ABSOLUTELY RUIN TOKELAND. I am sorry this has happened."
Kristine Torset, (granddaughter of the man who rode on the Cadillac) said, “The thought of those people made me hesitate when first asked to join in, but then I remembered Joey, one of Sabina's adult children, who is no longer with us because of people like that, who hate for no good reason. I can't stand by and let that narrative continue here! For Joey's sake, for my sake, as a queer Indigenous person, we have to step in and take space for ourselves. Our voices are important. We deserve to be heard. We come from strong people who were very open and welcoming yet commanded respect. I aim to continue that legacy with
every breath I take.”
Harris said, “I did it in his [Joey’s] honor. We got sideways looks from some people, but 99.9 percent were just amazed and so happy that we were there. But…it’s people like that—is why I don’t have my son. You know, those kinds of comments are the reasons some of us have lost their gay children, to their own hand.”
Connecting with Community
Overall, the consensus among the first Pride contingent is well…pride. “We made history!” Harris said. “A little boy came up to me and said, ‘Look, I wore my rainbow Crocs and we match!’ This is what it’s all about. To make this little one feel ok with who they are before they get to this stage and decide that ‘everyone hates who I am, so I don’t like me either’…I hope that’s what we touched.”
Only one week earlier, I had walked with hundreds in Seaside’s historic 1st Pride. Although there were only 8 of us representing pride in Tokeland, our presence was undeniable. Our exuberance unlimited. We were making history. Hopefully, we were making a difference.
Torset said, “The joy and laughter with my loved ones while we walked made my heart soar. I can't wait for next year. Maybe more people will decide to walk with us in love and support now that we've opened the door.”
Harris agreed. “We’ll be back next year bigger and stronger!”