Watching “Two-Spirit Powwow,” one feels a switch from watching something interesting to seeing something you’d like to attend in person.
Emmy-winning producer and SCU alumni Rick Bacigalupi profiles the Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirit (BAAIT) gathering at San Francisco’s Fort Mason. People who read Thomas Berger’s novel Little Big Man know the term “two-spirited”; it’s a helpful word since many a nation has their own term for an LGBTQ person. Despite how two-spiritedness has been part of Native American life since forever, today’s reservations are conservative places. Evangelical Christianity and close-knit communities make it difficult for someone to come out.
The interviews here include Cheyenne River Lakota Sheldon Raymore who describes rejection after he came out and then, years later, acceptance by his mother; and the facially-tattooed Tongva/Ajachmen L. Frank Manriquez of Rohnert Park, a first woman who fought discrimination and became the Powwow’s MC.
While there are sacred things Bacigalupi declined to film, we do see the meetings to discuss how the event proceeds—the usual protocol issues that emerge when you get a lot of different people together. Much of what goes on is usual powwow procedure, everything from the dance categories to the sizzling fry-bread. Others are new—such as female drummers and the Turtle Nation group.
On the one hand, regalia is never to be called a costume—it’s traditional clothing. On the other hand, BAAITT has a “duct tape” contest wherein dancers make impromptu regalia out of cardboard, paper and whatever else is laying around. Then they twirl around in it to test the willpower of the “Stoic Indian” contest participants, who try to keep rigid faces. While versifying during the drumming competitions is a feature of the powwow circuit, the verse here is more site-specific (“He said he was straight, but when it got late…”). Out for Native American Heritage month, this documentary is good news for a change. The ambient joy at this gathering is a pleasure to watch.
‘Two Spirit Powwow’ airs on KRCB Nov. 18 at 9pm and Nov. 21 at noon.