Indigenous Embodiment and Two-Spirit Sensuality: Dayna Danger’s Big ‘Uns - Mia Jodorcovsky

February 7, 2024

Dayna Danger, a Métis-Saulteaux-Polish artist, navigates societal norms and advocates for Two-Spirit empowerment in their significant work, Adrienne (2017). This compelling piece challenges established heteronormative gender norms while celebrating Indigenous resilience, prompting viewers to contemplate the enduring echoes of colonialism subtly embedded in the visual landscape.

The artwork Adrienne from the Big ‘Uns photographic series features Danger's Anishinaabe Two-Spirit friend, Adrienne Huard, boldly standing in the nude and holding imposing antlers over their pubis—an intentional confrontation with the censorship ingrained in dominant narratives, particularly those tied to heteronormativity and Indigeneity.1 The title, Big 'Uns, cleverly draws from hunting lingo referring to an impressive set of antlers and colloquially, to ample breasts.2 Hunting sports have been associated with masculinity, and hunting trophies with virility.3 The choice to showcase a Two-Spirit individual in this confident stance, with their feet hip-width apart, shoulders held back and head held high, as they sport big antlers, plays on a certain ambiguity that speaks to the Two-Spirit experience.4 While Danger references the female nude genre, the viewing pleasure associated with this artistic tradition is subverted by breaking the picture plane with the large antlers, rendering the body sexually ambiguous. This speaks to the duality of Two-Spirit individuals, many of whom identify simultaneously with male and female energies.5 To center the narrative of this artwork around an Anishnaabe Two-Spirit subject actively challenging patriarchal tradition serves as a radical act of defiance, presenting a counter-narrative that transcends societal constraints and demands a reevaluation of preconceived notions surrounding gender and identity.

Moreover, there is a potent celebration of sensuality in Danger's work. The radiant skin and unapologetic nude model pays homage to Qwo Li Driskill's concept of the "Sovereign Erotic," presenting sensuality as a potent tool for Two-Spirit individuals to challenge oppressive colonial structures.6 Driskill, a Two-Spirit Cherokee scholar, discusses the intersection of sexuality and decolonization through Indigenous expressions and perspectives on gender and sex.7 To actively and proudly embody one’s Two-Spirit identity as an Indigenous individual is to directly assert a decolonial stance against the gender and sex binary instilled by settler colonies, thus engaging in “a journey to a Sovereign Erotic that mends [Indigenous] lives and communities.”8 To illustrate this concept, Huard takes center stage in the composition, instantly capturing the viewer's attention. Their oiled complexion evokes the brilliance of a jewel, equating Huard to the prestige and awe one bestows upon such an object. This invokes a layer of desire to the artwork, a luxurious dimension that tantalizes the viewer, inviting them to appreciate the sensuality of a Two-Spirit subject via Huard’s glistening skin. Despite this, Huard's returned gaze adds a sense of self-possession, a sovereignty in their own sexuality that disrupts the potential objectification prevalent in the nude artistic genre. Consequently, a delicate balance is achieved: sensual desire is evoked through the glimmering skin, while maintaining an intact subjecthood by directing the gaze back to the viewer. This narrative fosters Indigenous desire as a radical manifestation of decolonization of heteronormative gender roles and expectations.9

Adrienne from Big ‘Uns is not just a photograph; it embodies what Sherry Farrell Racette terms "photography of resistance."10 It is  a powerful instrument of decolonization, a visual rebellion against historical wounds. Dayna Danger isn't merely capturing moments; she's crafting a narrative, an artistic rebellion that invites us to witness and appreciate the world through the empowering lens of Two-Spirit identity. Through deliberate choices in composition, lighting, and narrative, Danger challenges the viewer to reconsider preconceived notions and engage in a dialogue about empowerment, representation, and the ongoing decolonization of art.

1.  “Adrienne Huard (@adrienne_loon),” Instagram, accessed October 22, 2023, https://www.instagram.com/adrienne_loon/.
2.  “Dayna Danger | Big ’Uns,” Latitude 53, June 9, 2017, https://www.latitude53.org/current/2019/4/10/dayna-danger-big-uns-jnzfe.
3.  Nikolaj Bichel and Adam Hart, Trophy Hunting (UK: Springer Nature, 2023), 79, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-9976-5.
4.  Michelle S. McGeough, “The Indigenous Sovereign Body: Gender, Sexuality and Performance.” (New Mexico, University of New Mexico, 2017), 108.
5.  McGeough, 108.
6.  Qwo-Li Driskill, “Stolen From Our Bodies: First Nations Two-Spirits/Queers and the Journey to a Sovereign Erotic,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 16, no. 2 (July 8, 2004): 50–64, https://doi.org/10.1353/ail.2004.0020.
7.  In November 2023, Qwo-Li Driskill faced accusations of identity fraud by the Tribal Alliance Against Frauds, challenging his claimed Cherokee, Lenape, and Osage ancestry, see Palmer, Kathryn. “Oregon State Professor Accused of Falsely Claiming Native Ancestry.” Inside Higher Ed | Faculty News (blog), November 7, 2023. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/faculty-issues/diversity-equity/2023/11/07/oregon-state-professor-accused-falsely-claiming. It is crucial to acknowledge these allegations when engaging with Driskill's theories, recognizing their gravity. Despite this controversy, it is pertinent to note that his concepts on Two-Spirit sexuality and identity continue to be embraced by various Indigenous and Indigiqueer scholars and writers such as June Scudeler, Michelle McGeough, and Madeline Burns. While the accusations are significant, the enduring resonance of Driskill's ideas within these scholarly communities underscores their continued relevance. See Burns. “Reclaiming Indigenous Sexual Being: Sovereignty and Decolonization Through Sexuality.” The Arbutus Review 11, no. 1 Special Issue on Indigenous Wellness (2020): 28–38; McGeough, Michelle S. “The Indigenous Sovereign Body: Gender, Sexuality and Performance.” University of New Mexico, 2017; Scudeler, June. “‘Indians on Top’: Kent Monkman’s Sovereign Erotics.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 39, no. 4 (September 1, 2015). https://doi.org/10.17953/aicrj.39.4.scudeler.
8.  Driskill, 51.
9.  Sherry Farrell Racette, “Returning Fire, Pointing the Canon: Aboriginal Photography as Resistance,” in The Cultural Work of Photography in Canada, by Carol Payne and Andrea Kunard (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press - MQUP, 2011), 88.
10.  Racette, “Returning Fire, Pointing the Canon: Aboriginal Photography as Resistance,” 89.


Bichel, Nikolaj, and Adam Hart. Trophy Hunting. UK: Springer Nature, 2023. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-9976-5.

Driskill, Qwo-Li. “Stolen From Our Bodies: First Nations Two-Spirits/Queers and the Journey to a Sovereign Erotic.” Studies in American Indian Literatures 16, no. 2 (July 8, 2004): 50–64. https://doi.org/10.1353/ail.2004.0020.

Latitude 53. “Dayna Danger | Big ’Uns,” June 9, 2017. https://www.latitude53.org/current/2019/4/10/dayna-danger-big-uns-jnzfe.

McGeough, Michelle S. “The Indigenous Sovereign Body: Gender, Sexuality and Performance.” University of New Mexico, 2017.

Racette, Sherry Farrell. “Returning Fire, Pointing the Canon: Aboriginal Photography as Resistance.” In The Cultural Work of Photography in Canada, by Carol Payne and Andrea Kunard, 70–90. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press - MQUP, 2011.

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