MINNEAPOLIS- Sept 2- Indigenous LGBT people from across North America and Hawaii convened in Sandstone, Minnesota, from August 28 to September 1 to observe two decades of grassroots success. An annual intertribal meeting of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Native community representatives has been hosted in communities from Montreal to California and Vancouver to Kansas City since 1988 reaching some 3,200 people.
“This has been an alcohol and chemical free event for 20 years and it is focused on healing, ceremony, cultural revitalization and social strengthening. What is different about this gathering is we opened it to the media for the first time. Journalists and professional film crews representing Hollywood visited with us and documented our stories, our leaders and our vision for the next two decades,” noted Richard LaFortune, national director of Two Spirit Press Room, sponsoring organization of the event.
At the events opening, a traditional Ojibwe Water Ceremony was observed before numerous well wishes, proclamations, congratulations and welcomes were conveyed from Minneapolis City Hall by the City Council and Mayor RT Ryback; in a joint letter from both chambers of the Minnesota Legislature, officials extended an invitation for Native participants to call upon the state for any assistance needed during their stay in Minnesota; and US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama sent a surprise greeting that caused a favorable reaction among participants. The organizing committee for the event attempted to reach the McCain campaign to see whether the Republican candidate also offered a greeting for the Native participants, but the eventgoers did not hear from Senator McCain. “We welcomed Senator Obama’s expression of support, which we certainly hadn’t expected. It is completely appropriate for our tribal participants to have heard from a US presidential candidate, because the Gathering participants represent Sovereign Nations,” stated LaFortune, “and we have always been known as leaders among our cultures.” The annual international gathering does not endorse or support political candidates. The poster announcing the 2008 Gathering, designed by National Endowment of the Arts fellow Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie features a historic 1920s photograph portrait of a respected and well-known transgender head-of-state from the Southwest, who was recognized at the White House and admired by members of Congress.
The University of Washington at Seattle-based HONOR Project presented a point of first release report on a National Institutes of Health funded initiative on mental health and well being of Native LGBT people around the United States by Dr. Karina Walters. The rough footage of a National Film Board of Canada documentary slated for October 2008 national broadcast in that country by Native producer/director Lorne Olson was previewed by the community. The post-production in progress of the United States based documentary, The Fred Martinez Project, under the direction of Lydia Nibley, was also screened. “Two Spirits” tells the story of a 16 year-old transgender Navajo student in Colorado who was brutally murdered in 2001. Both works are headed toward Sundance International Film Festival. Sundance Film Institute collaborated with Two Spirit Press Room in Minneapolis at a recent showing of established and emerging Indigenous filmmakers at Walker Art Center.
Native youth suicide was highlighted as an emerging concern of great magnitude in the Two Spirit community, in addition to unabated levels of HIV transmission during more than a quarter of a century of the pandemic. Escalating levels of cuts in federal funding directed to prevention and services among Native health and human service organizations have increasingly raised alarm across Native Country. In 2008 Native American HIV transmission rates are equaled only by sub-Saharan Africa, it was reported at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. Two Spirit Press Room presented information about the 20th International Two Spirit Gathering at an Indigenous pre-conference in August, at the invitation of the Ottawa based Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network. Since 1981 AIDS has claimed 25 million people worldwide, and Native American people continue to be disproportionately impacted by HIV.
Also discussed was the partnership of LGBT Foundations and their relationship to Indigenous communities. Native leaders are calling for a national symposium of Gay Funders to address significant unmet needs for Two Spirit organizations, with the goal of immediately launching a two-year, $1 million initiative. An international petition has secured the support of over five hundred people from twenty countries across the globe who agree with this proposition. The petition can be located on the world wide web at: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/a-campaign-for-native-glbt-funding-justice.
Representatives of almost three-dozen tribes spanning the entire continent met at this annual International Gathering of Two Spirit people. The event usually attracts 100-150 Native people, their partners and families annually. The Denver Two Spirit Society is scheduled to host the event in 2009, Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 2010, Hawaii in 2011, and Edmonton, Alberta in 2012.