The fourth annual Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirit (BAAITS) Powwow, the world’s only public Two-Spirit pow wow, is set for Saturday, February 7, 2015.
“Two-Spirit” is a Native American term for people with both female and male energies. Two-Spirits may (or may not) also identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. Two-Spirits often held—and many still hold— honored positions in their traditional Native American and First Nations communities. “Two-Spirit” is a pan-tribal term—it is rooted in the Anishnaabe term describing such individuals: “niizh manidoowag.” This translates literally as “two spirits.”
In the Two-Spirit nature of the event, the pow wow will feature a rare all-women drum group (Turtle Nation Singers), and instead of just the traditional two Head Dancers, male and female, three Head Dancers representing men, women, and third-gender people will perform.
BAAITS Chairperson Ruth Villasenor says, “This year, besides ensuring women’s representation among our drummers and bringing in a third head dancer, in social dances where men and women dance as couples, we will extend a particular welcome to same-sex couples.” According to Villasenor, “we want to do our best to build this new tradition.”
Aidan Dunn, the pow wow’s co-chair, says, “This pow wow provides some Native community members their first exposure to a Two-Spirit community. It’s an amazing opportunity for healing.”
The three Head Dancers for the pow wow will be Jay Armajo, Jenny Davis, and Sheldon Raymore.
Jay Armajo (Northern Arapaho and Navajo) grew up in Laramie, Wyoming, and enjoys traveling. He moved to Denver to attend the Art Institute of Colorado, trained in the culinary arts, and currently works as an accounting coordinator for a credit card processor. Jay supports his fellow Two-Spirit individuals and groups by bringing traditional arts, meals and songs.
Jenny Davis (Chickasaw) is originally from Oklahoma. She recently earned a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and served as co-director of both the Denver Two-Spirit Society of Denver (2007-2010) and the Tulsa Two-Spirit Society (2010-2011) and co-organizer of the 2009 International Two Spirit Gathering in Estes Park, Colorado. She is an assistant professor in American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she works in endangered language documentation and revitalization.
Born in Fremont, California, Sheldon Raymore (Cheyenne River Lakota) now lives in New York City, and is a member of the Northeast Two-Spirit Society, leading pow wow dance practice and regalia-making. He is the founder of Rainbow Crow, a traditional Native storytelling song and dance program developed to create connections between the Two-Spirit, the broader Native, and non-Native communities. He is also a designer with a certification in fashion illustration and tailoring and alterations.
Besides Turtle Nation Singers, the BAAITS pow wow will also feature Southern Pride, the host Southern Drum for the previous three pow wows. This drum group will be traveling to the Bay Area from Jay, Oklahoma. The group’s members are Two-Spirit singers and drummers and their families.
Villasenor says, “The Two-Spirit pow wow was originated to bring all Two-Spirits back into the circle.” At this pow wow, all Two-Spirits and LGBTQ people and their allies from all over the U.S. and Canada get a chance to come together to celebrate Native culture , build community, and express themselves in traditional and nontraditional ways .
At least 25 vendors will be on site selling frybread, buffalo burgers, Native art and jewelry, and other wares to the expected crowd of over 2,000. The Native American Health Center will also be in attendance providing free health screenings.
Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (BAAITS) is a community-based volunteer organization offering culturally relevant activities for Native Americans identifying as Two-Spirit and their allies.