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Sapatq’ayn Cinema Film Festival Tackles Sex Roles and Environmental Justice Issues

Monday, March 7 2011

MOSCOW, Idaho – The University of Idaho’s Sapatq’ayn Cinema Film Festival will screen two documentary films on March 25-26 at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre in downtown Moscow. Nez Perce elder Horace Axtell and University of Idaho’s Native American student drum, Vandal Nation, will open the festival both evenings.

On Friday, March 25, at 7 p.m., Sapatq’ayn Cinema will show “Two Spirits,” a film about traditional Native American sex and gender roles prior to European colonization, as well as the murder of a gay Navajo teenager. “Two Spirits” follows Fred Martinez, a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, as he faces discrimination for being gay and Navajo. Martinez became one of the youngest hate-crime victims in modern history when he was brutally murdered at 16.

“Two Spirit” scholar and activist Richard LaFortune will lead a discussion with the audience following the screening. He also will give a lecture on “Two Spirit” traditions on campus Friday afternoon in the Idaho Commons. LaFortune is the director of the Two Spirit Press Room, 2SPR, and is one of the founding members of the International Two Spirit Gathering.

“The rise in gay bashing and gay suicides nationwide make this film especially timely. Indigenous traditions can teach us a lot about the complexity of human sexuality and the importance of tolerance,” said festival organizer Professor Jan Johnson. “Alternatives to ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ have existed for thousands of years in the Americas. We should become aware of them and respect them.”

On Saturday, March 26, at 7 p.m., the festival will screen “The Return of Navajo Boy,” a documentary about a family reconnecting, the poisoning of Navajo lands from uranium mining, and the Navajo’s campaign to pressure Congress to appropriate funds for the cleanup.

“The Return of Navajo Boy” tells the story of Elsie Mae Begay, whose history in pictures reveals an incredible and ongoing struggle for environmental justice. A powerful new epilogue shows how the film and Groundswell Educational Films’ outreach campaign create news and rally supporters including Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA). As chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Waxman mandated a clean-up plan by the five agencies that are responsible for uranium contamination.

Great-grandmother Elsie Begay, instrumental in the cleanup campaign, is traveling to Moscow to talk about the film and the importance of the cleanup. She will bring copies of the film and her own handmade jewelry to sell at the event.

“For many of us, Monument Valley is the setting of John Wayne westerns, not the home of contemporary Navajo people suffering from uranium poisoning and substandard living conditions,” said Johnson.

Referring to Indians of the Southwest, Begay has noted, "There are thousands of pictures of us, but we never got to say anything.” This film tells the Navajos’ story.

“Elsie and ‘Navajo Boy’ alert us to the ongoing, dangerous effects of resource extraction on Indian lands. They ask us to join their struggle and to become aware of environmental justice issues in our own area,” said Johnson. "We need only look to the Highway 12 megaload activity and the Alberta Tar Sands project to see other Native people poisoned by mining activities. The University of Idaho President’s Sustainability Symposium is helping to support Elsie Begay’s visit because it recognizes the importance of environmental justice education.

To learn more, see

Sapatq'ayn is a Nez Perce word meaning "to display" or "a motion picture." Established in 2003, Sapatq'ayn Cinema screens films written, directed and acted by Native Americans, with a focus on contemporary Native experience. The festival seeks to enrich understanding of Native American artistry, culture and history, and to improve intercultural relationships. The festival’s website is

The Sapatq’ayn Cinema is a two-night educational festival that is sponsored by the University of Idaho American Indian Studies Program. LaFortune’s visit is sponsored by the University of Idaho GLBTQ Office and the CORE Discovery/Judith Runstad Discovery Lecture Series. Begay’s visit is partially sponsored by the University of Idaho President’s Sustainability Symposium and the Washington State University Museum of Anthropology. This event is free and open to the public.
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s land-grant institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year. The University of Idaho is classified by the prestigious Carnegie Foundation as high research activity. The student population of 12,000 includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars, who select from more than 130 degree options in the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Art and Architecture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Law; Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Natural Resources; and Science. The university also is charged with the statewide mission for medical education through the WWAMI program. The university combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities and focuses on helping students to succeed and become leaders. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. For more information, visit