Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Two Spirit powwow
set for Saturday


Participants at last year's BAAITS Powwow performed traditional dances as part of the daylong festivities.(Photo: Jordy Jones)
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Over 1,000 participants are expected at the Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits' third annual powwow this weekend with drummers, dancers, and prominent movement leaders from across the country and Canada who will be ready to share their rich cultural traditions with family, friends and LGBTQ community members unfamiliar with Two Spirits and their role in the lives of Native Americans.

Local scholar and playwright Cherrie Moraga (Xicana), in her book Loving in the War Years, said, "The term 'two spirit' is used to refer to contemporary Native American/First Nations gay men, lesbians, transvestites and transgendered [sic] individuals, as well as to traditions of multiple gender categories and sexualities in tribal cultures."

Aidan Dunn (Osage), a powwow committee member who identifies as Two Spirit, said the February 1 daylong event will include drumming, colorful Native regalia, dancing contests, such specialty foods as fry bread and Indian tacos, and inclusion of Two Spirit dancers.

"This is an opportunity for BAAITS to take the national stage as an out and proud Two Spirit organization," BAAITS Chair Ruth Villasenor (Chiricahua) said in an email.

The Two Spirit Oakland resident added, "This Two Spirit Powwow is a space to bring our communities together, creating opportunities for healing."

The Bay Area has a large population of Two Spirit people.

"Sixty-five to 70 percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives live in urban settings or do not reside on a reservation," according to Dunn. The 30-year-old freelance grant writer cited and said challenges facing Two Spirit people include high instances of HIV/AIDS, high suicide rates, and trauma due to loss of culture.

Cherokee Culture teacher Wade Blevins, who is Two Spirit and lead singer for Southern Pride Drum, an intertribal group based in Oklahoma, said in an email, "This powwow is a place where all Natives can celebrate their place in the circle." His group will play throughout the day Saturday in rotation with other Drums present.

"For Two Spirit people, a powwow can play an important role in their personal healing," said New York Two Spirit fashion designer Sheldon Raymore (Cheyenne River Sioux).

For Raymore, 34, dancing in powwows was the center of his life, but after coming out as Two Spirit, he left the powwow circle for a decade. In 2013 his mother, Cynthia Brings Plenty, of South Dakota, sponsored a "coming out" ceremony for him where he was welcomed back into the powwow circle as a grass dancer.

At Saturday's powwow, Raymore will sponsor a coming out dance for his mother, away from the circle for 40 years, and she will dance a style traditional to the Two Spirit people of their tribe. Raymore handmade his mother's regalia for the powwow.

"We chose this powwow for her coming out dance because BAAITS hosts a safe space for Two Spirits," Raymore said. "My mother is requesting all mothers and Two Spirits to dance her into the circle, because we are all a part of the sacred hoop of life."

Other participants said they welcome the diversity that will be on display.

"I truly enjoy the diversity of powwow people that come out to this dance," popular Bay Area powwow emcee Earl Neconie (Kiowa) said. Neconie, a straight ally, will co-emcee this year's powwow with Santa Rosa artist and activist L. Frank Manriquez (Tongya/Acjacheman), a local female Two Spirit artist and activist. Traditionally only men emcee powwows, Dunn said.

The powwow will feature prominent Two Spirit community leaders from across North America in head staff roles. Head dancers will be Joey Criddle (Jicarilla) from Alabama, and Terra Matthews (Tsimshian/Carrier) from L'heidli T'enneh First Nation in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

"I was very honored to be asked to participate," Matthews said in an email. "Gathering our families and allies in such a powwow is not only healing and rejuvenating for our spirit; it makes us stronger and gives us a renewed vitality and strengthens our Indigenous communities."

The powwow will open with Queer Danzantes, local Mexica/Aztec dancers, and the colorful Grand Entry, at noon, where flags, including tribal, POW/MIA, and the rainbow flag, will be danced into the arena by honored veterans.

"A powwow is a good time," BAAITS drummer Michelle Zamora (Yaqui/Chicana) said in an email. "It's an amazing opportunity for healing."


The BAAITS Powwow is free and open to the public from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. February 1 at the SOMArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan Street in San Francisco. The venue is accessible by BART (Civic Center) and Muni (12, 19, 27, 47). For more information, visit

BAAITS requests attendees come sober and respect dancers' regalia. Casual wear, not costumes, is appropriate. The Native American Health Center will offer free HIV screening.

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