Montana Two Spirit Community holds 8th annual gathering
By Deb Williams
Banners from four different Two Spirit Groups greeted participants of Montana’s
8th Annual Two Spirit Gathering. Started as a retreat for Native gay
and bisexual men focusing on HIV prevention and education, the gathering has expanded to included family members and Two Spirit
people from other regions as support for this group.
David Herrera, of FDH and Associates, began organizing the retreats in 1997
when funding allowed him to expand from one retreat to six, each serving a specific community.
Having the planning committee be made up of members of the target community was essential to their community building
The planning committee for the Two Spirit gatherings was drawn from Montana’s seven reservations as well as the town areas. Because of the importance of family and community to Native people, the retreats are
more inclusive than the other retreats offered by FDH and Associates.
A planning committee member for the Montana Two Spirit Gathering, Steven Barrios,
lives on his reservation in Browning, MT. In addition to his work on this committee
Barrios also runs the Blackfoot Two Spirit society in Browning.
About the gatherings he says, “They’ve been needed. We’re getting our culture back that was taken from us so many years ago. There is a lot of healing- not just physically, but emotionally.”
Barrios has seen the Montana
gathering change dramatically over the years he has been involved. This is, in
part, because of support from people outside the area and the International Two Spirit Gatherings (ITSG). Montana hosted the 2004 ITSG with the
Northwest Two Spirit Society.
Some of the outstate participants came as presenters and found support at this,
as well as other, gatherings. Kory Montoya, of New Mexico POZ Coalition of Albuquerque,
presented the workshop, ‘Living Positively’. Like many Two Spirit
people, Montoya lost family support because they could not accept him as a gay man.
He says he attends these gatherings because, “I find support and love in the people I meet as family.”
John Hawk Co’cke presented the ‘Two Spirit History’ workshop
in which he talked about some of the roles Two Spirit people held in the past, as well as a slide show of historical and present
day pictures of Two Spirit men and women. A member of the Osage Nation and an
Oklahoma resident, Hawk Co’cke sees that there is
a lot of work to be done. Many Native people in Oklahoma feel that their Christian beliefs prevent them from accepting two Spirit people. Many Two Spirit people cannot or do not want to
be open about their sexuality. There is a focus on the bar scene, and
people engaging in risk behaviors.
Five years ago, when Hawk Co’cke became coordinator of the Tulsa Two
Spirit Society, he started a local Two Spirit Gathering where it was possible to be open in a safe environment. These gatherings have grown to include many Two Spirit men and women. Hawk Co’cke credits this growth
to the many Two Spirit groups that have formed across the U.S. and Canada. The
internet is also an important way that the Two Spirit community keeps a dialogue going.
Some of the functions at this local gathering were drawn from the International
Two Spirit Gatherings, begun in Minneapolis 18 years ago,. Many people gather around the beading table to get help on projects they are working
on or just to talk. There is usually as fire that is kept burning and is attended
to by gathering participants.
There was also a talent show that featured performances of everything from
country music karaoke to comedy acts.
One of the events of the local as well as the International two
Gatherings is the powwow. For the Denver
two Spirit Society, which counts many powwow dancers among its members, this is one of the highlights of the Gathering.
Joey Criddle, Jicarilla Apache, appreciates the cultural aspects of the gathering: “We know there are gay people all over the world. We can go out to the bar anytime we want to and be around all the gay people we want. But when you go to these gatherings, you know that there is someone else there that smudges, there is someone
else that prays like I pray, there is someone else there that dances like I dance, that sings these songs.”
The Circle Native American News and Arts – 25 year Anniversary
September 2005, Volume 26, Issue 9, Page 14