There’s a lot of talk these days about sovereignty and what it entails. When you ask the average Native American what sovereignty means to them you might hear opinions that emphasize the importance of knowing one’s own language, diet, spiritual and traditional lifeways.
But what about social roles? As the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” So is it possible to lose something, or even a group of people, to the extent that they are almost totally wiped from the historical record?
This is exactly what happened during the beginning stages of the invasion of Turtle Island. A narrow, colonialist, paternal lense was employed that excluded any Two Spirit tradition in the new vision of what America was to look like. Natives were not supposed to be a part of that picture altogether, let alone Two Spirits. The extermination of the Two Spirit populations across Indian country was swift and thorough among those nations who acknowledged their LGBTIQA members.
These days a reintegration has begun and is making positive change in the Bay Area community. The Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits (BAAITS) hosted their 5th annual Pow Wow on last month at Fort Mason in San Francisco. The BAAITS pow wow has been gaining more attention since its inaugural dance in 2011.
The Bay Area is the fifth largest urban center for Native Americans. This year’s gathering brought in singers and dancers from as far away as Oklahoma and Montana, as well as Mexica dancers from varying parts of California. The pow wow receives much attention in the mainstream press, and is a hit among Native celebrities such as Charlie Ballard and Michael Horse.
For all intents and purposes, it’s much like your average pow wow, with a bit of tastefully done drag thrown in. Competition is not gendered. Instead, women’s fancy shawl loses its feminine designation and becomes fancy shawl. Women’s traditional becomes buckskin, and cloth dress and the same for fancy bustle/grass/chicken, northern traditional/southern straight. A bit of a detour from the binary tradition, but not enough to cause concern even among the most staunch pow wow attendees.
Michelle Antone and her family are from a well-respected Bay Area pow wow family with roots in Tohono O’odham territory. They are frequent attendees of the BAAITS pow wow and Ari, one of the family’s teens, is one of last year’s BAAITS pow wow royalty.
“I’m proud that our Bay Area Native community holds this pow wow for our Two Spirit community and their allies,” Antone said. “A place where one can dance the style one identifies with and not be judged. Being inclusive has always been our way as Native people. Our ancestors respected our Two Spirit community and we should do the same.”
“The Two-Spirit pow wow was originated to bring all Two Spirits back into the circle,” Co-Chair Roger Kuhn Kuhn said. “It is the only public Two Spirit pow wow in the world. The reintegration of Two Spirit people into the broader Native community is part of our mission, so this is an important step. As an organization, BAAITS wanted to bring together the people that live in rural areas with Natives that live in urban areas, such as San Francisco, and give them an opportunity to reestablish and reconnect with not only their heritage, but also as a way for us to come together as Two Spirit people.”
Co-Chair Aidan Dunn added that the event was “an amazing opportunity for healing.”
Among the highlights was an early afternoon gourd dance, an honoring ceremony for Two Spirit ally Richard Moves Camp, and an exhibition stomp dance was held after the dinner break. The event was opened with a prayer by a pair of Two Spirit sisters who represented the California Native nations. The dance is held in Ohlone Territory, and it is important to the organizers that this fact is recognized each year.
Plans are already in the works for the 2017 pow wow, to be held February of next year in San Francisco, California. If this pow wow’s early success is any indication, this is one that is destined to become a can’t-miss on the early spring pow wow trail.
Samuel White Swan-Perkins is Tsalagi, Welsh, Siksika, and German. His is the owner of White Swan-Perkins Cultural Consulting, and also a member of the Kiowa Gourd Dance Society. He lives in Northern California.