Folkies take refuge in Red Tent

Safe space provides services to marginalized groups

While the Winnipeg Folk Festival (WFF) recruits multiple volunteers for a variety of services, the Red Tent provides one of the most important resources — a safe space amongst the music and fun.

The Red Tent is a Winnipeg-based service focused specifically on creating, as explained on the Red Tent’s Facebook page, “safer spaces for women, trans and two-spirit people” through services including training sessions for local organizations and partnering with events.

This year, the Red Tent set up shop at the WFF campground and festival grounds.

The tents are run by volunteers — one of those volunteers, Rain Muchikekwanape, described the service as being “like a pop-up resource centre.”

“It’s just a safe space for them if they want to collect some resources or supplies, or if they just want to hang out and draw or read or just chill,” they said.

This is Muchikekwanape’s second year volunteering with Folk Fest, but their first working with the Red Tent.

They said many of the people who visit the Red Tent are looking for hygienic or safe-sex products — while the space is specifically for marginalized groups attending the festival, people of all genders are welcome to certain resources.

“We mostly have women come in for menstrual products, sometimes we’ll have a guy come in for condoms and stuff like that,” they said.

The Red Tent has been a staple at Winnipeg events since its formation in 2011 — just this year its volunteers have provided its services to several local celebrations including Festival du Voyageur and Pride festivities.

At WFF, part of the Red Tent’s purpose is to provide a refuge from the party atmosphere that often arises throughout the weekend, Muchikekwanape said.

“From what I’ve heard, it’s a little more chaotic at night, just because that’s when everyone’s partying and getting down and dirty, and there’s more issues at that time,” they said.

Volunteer co-ordinators are the backbone of the Red Tent, and, according to the project’s Facebook page, many of them are “health educators or work in the social health field at community health centres around the city in one capacity or another.”

“We also provide crisis response, there’s always a counsellor on call for situations if someone has experienced sexual assault or harassment or something like that,” Muchikekwanape said.

Creating a space for diverse groups at events like WFF is especially important, Muchikekwanape said.

“I do think it’s very important for a festival like this, just because there’s not a lot of awareness around marginalized identities, I think, and it is pretty white-washed, I think,” they said.

“There’s a lot of lack of diversity, and so people who are a marginalized identity don’t feel entirely, I don’t want to say, comfortable […] It can just feel a little bit isolating.”

Muchikekwanape said their own experience of being the “only non-white person in [their] camp” spoke to this and emphasized the need for spaces like the Red Tent for festival-goers.

“I think it’s just important to have a space where you can feel safe and yourself,” they said.

“Which I think is something that doesn’t happen a lot when you’re constantly surrounded by straight, cis white folks who don’t entirely understand your struggle.”