This past weekend in Highland, California, the Yuhaaviatam Clan of the Serrano Indians held their annual San Manual Powwow!
Apart of their dance competitions, the San Manual Powwow sponsor a Sweetheart Dance Contest for couples. The contest offers 10K in prize money for first place!
To be honest, I have my favorite powwow circuit dancers that I like to watch but after watching this past weekends Sweethearts Dance contest, I now have two new favorites! Two Spirit couple Sean Synder (Navajo & Southern Ute) & Adrian Matthias Stevens (Shoshone Bannock, Ute & Apache) of Orem, Utah!
Check them out in the Pre-lims!
youtube video by Amigo Kandu
Seeing a Two Spirit couple dance in the couples competition put a big smile on my face, you could tell they put a lot of time and energy into their dance performance because they went the extra mile to have matching outfits, their footwork was creative and they were also the most original duo out there.
Unfortunately, Sean & AD were disqualified after the preliminary round.
Let's find out a little bit about them and how they overcame adversity.
Hi guys, please introduce yourselves!
(Sean) My name is Sean Snyder, I am enrolled with the Navajo Nation and part Southern Ute. I am also a student at Utah Valley University studying Art History, originally from Iowa City, Iowa., but now reside in Orem, Utah.
(Adrian) Mic (Hello), My name is Adrian Matthias Stevens and I come from the Northern Ute, Shoshone-Bannock and San Carlos Apache Tribes. I was born and raised near the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation.
How long have you guys been dancing?
(Sean) I have been dancing since I could walk. My grandma has danced for a long time and was a big influence on my family participating in Powwows.
(Adrian) I grew up going to Powwows, both of my parents are dancers.
photo by Amigo Kandu
What was your experience like dancing as a Two Spirit couple in their Sweetheart Competition?
(Sean) San Manuel Powwow 2017 was something we were planning on for months. We got our inspiration for our outfits from some old photos of Ute men that Adrian’s parents had. We wanted to not only represent ourselves but our tribal identities as well. Once getting to the Powwow we were confronted with something that took us a day to process. The rules stated that couples had to be one man and one woman. Adrian had to lie to the registration people because they were adamant about asking if, “Sean was a woman” ? We knew that we would be breaking social norms for this special but we were excited to just go out there like any other couple and simply dance with each other.
(Adrian) Upon arrival I was discouraged when I read the rules which stated, “A team is TWO people only, one male and one female” . I couldn’t believe after all the work we had put into wanting to showcase our routine and dancing ability, that this may not actually come to fruition. But with the huge amount of support from Powwow friends and family I gained enough courage to sign our names on the registration sheet.
How have Powwows changed for Two Spirit people?
(Sean) Powwows have become more progressive and accepting towards Two Spirit individuals. We have a lot of Two Spirit friends who Powwow across the country and Canada. Based on my experience I still see a lot of homophobia within the Powwow community but just as greater society has grown so has our Powwow community. There is still a long way to go for understanding of Two Spirit identities and how we can engage in our own cultural activities without prejudice.
(Adrian) In the last 10 years the acceptance of Two Spirit people in the Powwow arena has grown to become more open and accepting in certain regions of the United States and Canada. I’ve always believed that when you enter the dance arena thats been blessed through grand entry prayer, then you as a dancer must uphold a level of respect to the style of dance in which you choose.
Any advice you'd like to give the younger Two Spirits entering the Powwow arena?
(Sean) Stay true to yourself and do not be afraid, we have both grew up in small towns, dealing with bullying and isolation. In the dance arena we have found an outlet for our self expression, so find out what makes you happy and go dance.
(Adrian) I want people, the young and old to see that LGBT people already exist in the arena. There are times of prejudice that we will endure but remain true to the values and teachings that this arena holds and it will only further the level of dignity and equality that Two Spirit people deserve.
Statement from San Manual Pow Wow Committee
STATEMENT REGARDING SWEETHEARTS DANCE
The San Manuel Pow Wow invites all peoples to enjoy its celebration and take part since its beginnings 23 years ago.
The Sweetheart Competition has been an ongoing event with the San Manuel Pow Wow for much of the pow wow’s history. This competition has been guided by rules that were created by tribal elders who are involved in the broader Pow Wow circuit and are established with the utmost respect to the Traditional ways.
We understand and acknowledge that same-sex couples are valuable members of the world community and harbor no negative thoughts or opinions against any same sex couples what so ever.
It’s often difficult when our Native Traditional ways intersect with modern issues to find equal ground.
The Creator gives each of us our own spirit, it is not for us to judge what the Creator has chosen for us.
The San Manuel Pow Wow competition rules state clearly that being less than truthful when entering any of our competitions will disqualify any participant. This couple misrepresented themselves as a man/woman couple to enter the contest, thereby were dismissed from competition when this misrepresentation was discovered.
The same sex couple would have been ineligible to be in the competition under established rules.
Holding consistent to rules and verifying that competitors are eligible is central to maintaining integrity of the event with qualification for entry declared prior to each contest.
The Pow Wow Committee and judges became aware of the couple in question during the competition and agreed to allow them to complete the dance to honor them and their relationship.
The rules for the San Manuel Pow Wow are reviewed and updated based on the outcomes of past events. As such we strive to find balance between Traditional ways and the realities of the present day.
Our goal is to always find ways to include all of our Native peoples and not to exclude anyone.
San Manuel Pow Wow Coordinator
As a contributing writer for powwows.com, I would personally like to thank Sean & AD for their courage and reinforcing our true traditional Native family & community values that ALL are welcome in the dance circle regardless of their sexual orientation or how they decide to represent themselves, not every tribal person or tribal entity will feel that way but they certainly have the blessing of other approving tribal elders who want to see them staying happy to each other and being true to themselves.
In the meantime, I would like to invite Sean, AD and everybody else to the 7th Annual Bay Area American Indian Two Spirit Powwow (Facebook event) in San Francisco, California., a community-based event created to counter the homophobia & discrimination that Two-Spirit people face at Powwows in Indian Country. At this Powwow everyone is welcomed, accepted & loved, unconditionally. And don't worry about winning that 10K prize, you guys won a better prize, making this world a better place! #aho #walkinpeace