The Indigiqueer Festival is back with drag, music, food, and dance at Pier 62 this Friday.

Event curator and Quileute drag performer Hailey Tayathy co-founded the event last year because they thought a gay-friendly city named for a Suquamish and Duwamish Chief deserved the big Indigenous Pride event it didn’t have.

They said it happened after the right partners came along—like yəhaw̓ Indigenous Creatives Collective and the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board—which approached Tayathy with the idea for a photography exhibition called Indigiqueer Joy, which is now at the Bainbridge Museum of Art. That concept bloomed into an outdoor festival that included a photography pop-up alongside drag performances. 

“The idea is having that many Indigiqueer performers and people together is something that will bring people joy,” Tayathay said.

Hailey Tayathy performing at Indigiqueer Festival in 2022. Robert Wade/Courtesy of Indigiqueer

This year, Indigiqueer Festival is adding art vendors and Indigenous-inspired food from Native Soul Cuisine chef Jeremy Thunderbird, who serves up fusion dishes such as smoked salmon mac ‘n’ cheese and Jamaican jerk Navajo tacos on a frybread shell. 

Tayathy estimated 900 people came last year, which isn’t huge by Pride standards (about 400,000 people showed up to the downtown parade in 2022), but seeing that many queer Indigenous people in one spot excited them. Compared to the local events they’ve organized through Indigenize Productions, the Indigiqueer Festival felt like another level altogether.

“It was like, ‘Woah … look at how big of a presence this has,”’ Tayathy said. “It’s been a realization for how many of us there are. If you’re just living your life in the city, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one.”

Tomahawk Martini performing at Indigiqueer Festival in 2022. Robert Wade/Courtesy of Indigiqueer

In years past, when Tayathy marched with a contingent of Two-Spirit performers at Pride downtown, none really stuck around afterward. A big group always gathered at someone’s house or apartment because the mainstream events weren’t really attracting queer Indigenous people.

Tayathy said they want to see Seattle grow its reputation as an Indigiqueer arts city, despite how expensive it is to live here.

Yakima Nation and two-spirit drag performer Koko Swallowz—who uses all pronouns—is returning to Indigiqueer Fest for a second year. 

Koko Swallowz performing at Indigiqueer Festival in 2022. Robert Wade/Courtesy of Indigiqueer

At non-Indigenous queer events, Swallowz said she often arrives dressed up and “sits in the corner, waiting for my time to shine,” to avoid explaining her identity to staff and other performers.

But last year, organizers of Indigiqueer Fest provided Swallowz a private changing room and asked about identity and pronouns without prompting. The fest is also paying for Swallowz’s hotel this year. It’s a level of comfort and respect Swallowz isn’t used to, he said. They don’t have to worry about showing up ready this time.

“They’re taking care of us,” Swallowz said. “It is nice sometimes, being in an environment where I don't exactly have to educate all the time.”

Last year's Indigiqueer Festival at Pier 62. Robert Wade/Courtesy of Indigiqueer

For Swallowz, the stage is a place to educate. Last year, their performance centered murdered and missing Indigenous women, who represent a disproportionate number of those cases in the US and Canada. Swallowz said she can be a very serious performer one night and do a comedy skit the next. Performing at Indigiqueer, for a primarily Native audience, was a first for her.

“Honestly, it was kind of beautiful,” they said. “It made me cry afterwards and you know, to see people like me. I want to be that voice I couldn’t find when I was a kid.”

Curator Tayathy said that voice definitely wasn’t coming from the gay mainstream.

“[When I was growing up] you know, you had like Cher in a headdress,” they joked. “That was a period of time where like all the queer cultural icons were like wearing headdresses and stuff. That was the closest thing you had.”