by Katie Arthurs
Although the umbrella term “Two-Spirit” has only been around since the ’90s, the Indigenous gender-variant identities it encompasses have deep roots within many Indigenous communities across North America. Historically, Two-Spirit people often held revered roles within their communities such as medicine people, teachers, name givers, spiritual leaders, and storytellers.
Despite efforts of erasure, the Two-Spirit community remains ever present. From Water Protectors standing at the front lines of protests to protect water supplies, to activists working to stop the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two Spirit (MMIWG2S) epidemic, to artists expressing their identities through performance and paintings; we remain steadfast in who we are and what we represent. We have even seen more and more Two-Spirit artists taking control of their own narratives and telling their stories, expanding and reframing the definition of traditional storytelling. Two-Spirit filmmaker Kymon Greyhorse’s short film I Am Home was featured at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
To continue to uplift and celebrate Two-Spirit and other Indigenous gender-variant voices to tell their own stories, the Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program has created a writing-focused Two-Spirit Intensive. Running virtually from July 26–28, this intensive aims to provide a supportive environment for participating artists to hone and develop their short film scripts, connect with community, and engage in conversations about identity and art. The advisors for the Intensive include Theo Jean Cuthand (Plains Cree, Kwêskosîw [She Whistles]), Erica Tremblay (Seneca-Cayuga, Fancy Dance), and Tiare Ribeaux (Kānaka Maoli / Kānaka ‘Ōiwi, Pō’ele Wai) with opening blessing conducted by Landa Lakes (Chickasaw).
The following are this year’s selected Fellows and their projects:
Gillian Joseph with Heċhetu:Tash’s latest writing project is a collection of fictitious love letters between an Indigenous lesbian couple in the 1800s. While tending to the creation of the lovers’ world, their realities begin to blend. Soon, the three women enter a romantic relationship as Tash gives herself over to imagination.
Gillian Joseph (Ihaŋktoŋwaŋ and Mdewakaŋtoŋ Dakota) Gillian Joseph is a queer, 2-Spirit Ihaŋktoŋwaŋ and Mdewakaŋtoŋ Dakota storyteller who grew up as a guest on Waxhaw and Catawba lands. They’re passionate about creating art that collapses colonial boundaries by re-imagining time, carving out pathways for knowledge sharing, and building restorative worlds. Find them online at gillian-joseph.com.
Littlebear Sanchez with Always, My Love: Warlance White Buffalo, a Native American man living alone on the reservation, stumbles upon an obituary of someone he once deeply loved. Plagued by memories of his past romance with Juno Mata, a Two-Spirited man, Warlance confronts his long-suppressed emotions and sets out on a poignant journey to honor his lost love.
Born in Austin, Texas, Littlebear Sanchez (Lipan Apache & Mexican) is a Two-Spirit filmmaker and the founder of Wild Butterfly Films. With experience in producing short films, documentary, and experimental films, Their focus is creating impactful storytelling with a diverse cast and crew, while specifically highlighting the voices and experiences of indigenous communities.
M. Kaleipumehana Cabral with Becoming My Own Ahupuaʻa: Becoming My Own Ahupuaʻa is an indigiqueer take on “self-care.” This experimental short tells the story of one queer Kanaka (re)connecting with culture and home through becoming their own refuge. We experience their journey through movement, mixed media, and a range of Native Hawaiian practices, moʻolelo (stories), and beliefs.
Pumehana Cabral (Kanaka Maoli) is a nonbinary queer Kanaka whose creative work centers around community and pilina, connection. They are a freelancer and consultant committed to art, ʻāina education, indigenous rights, and traditional and holistic healing. They believe that creative, collaborative work is pivotal to long-term social change — in Hawaiʻi and beyond.