Community Cinema, “Two Spirits”
This is the discussion following the screening of the film, "Two Spirits," at the Art Theater, June 11, 2011. Illinois Public Media partnered with the Up Center of Champaign County, to present this screening. Peggy Weyer, Lee Boyer and Sid Germaine were the panel members for this discussion, moderated by Kevin Johnson, director of the Up Center of Champaign County. There were about 90 people in the audience.
Two Spirits, is the story of Fred Martinez, a Navajo boy who felt that he was also a girl. In traditional Navajo culture, a person with a male body who has a female nature is known as nadleehi and holds a revered position in the community. In the mainstream American culture of Cortez, Colorado, however, Fred's dual nature led to bullying at school, harassment by adults, and, ultimately, to his brutal murder. In Two Spirits, Fred's mother, friends, and experts in two-spirit culture describe Fred and the reality that many people express gender across a spectrum from masculine to feminine, both historically and in contemporary society.
In many Native American cultures, being two-spirit is considered a special gift. Traditionally, two-spirit people were healers, negotiators, matchmakers, and caretakers of orphaned children. When the Europeans came in contact with Native Americans who did not conform to rigidly enforced gender roles, two-spirit people were treated harshly, and many were killed, which set the precedent for two-spirit culture going underground throughout North America.
As white European Christian influence spread among Native Americans, the two-spirit tradition all but disappeared from many Native cultures. The forced assimilation through education in Indian boarding schools and increased interaction with white society further eroded the status of two-spirit people and changed Native American perceptions of gender and sexuality.