There continues to be a lot of misinformation being shared about what “Two-Spirit” means, and Natives saying “No” are ignored just like when we say, stop cultural appropriation and misuse. Here’s the fact: if you are not Native/Indigenous, you are cannot be a Two-Spirit person and you should not be using the term to describe yourself or anyone else. It was a term created by Natives for Natives, and most Native nations and peoples have their terms in their languages also. The Dinéh (Navaho) refer to them as nàdleehé or ‘one who is ‘transformed’, the Lakota (Sioux) as winkte, the Mohave as alyha, the Zuni as lhamana, the Omaha as mexoga, the Aleut and Kodiak as achnucek, the Zapotec as ira’ muxe, etc.
My original post on the topic at redhaircrow.com was way back in 2010, “Two-Spirit-Tradition, History & Future”, so I wanted to do an updated version because my knowledge expanded also, from the wisdom of Native/Indigenous scholars, elders and elders-to-be. This is information I share and include in some workshops or presentations if applicable, or if someone asks about the term and its usage. Please recall all information on this and my personal website are our intellectual property, and require a written request for permission to reprint or use.
Recently, I shared links to the free manuscript proof of forthcoming, “Suicide Prevention in Indigenous Communities”, which I worked on with others this past summer for (NASEM), National Sciences Engineering Medicines Academies. It was almost totally ignored even by those who say they want to learn more about Natives. It’s a collection of firsthand information, data and knowledge from some of the hard-working Natives today, elders, academicians, psychologists, doctors. One of the greatest sections was on Two-Spirit people from Sadie Heart of the Hawk Ali, their presentation “Being Two-Spirit” can be downloaded from this online source.
Sadie sharing important knowledge, “Two-Spirit people are not only trans-identified, gender or sexually variant, gender queer, asexual or other terms. We are all of those and none of those because Two-Spirit is a **spiritual term** that reflects back on the roles our Two-Spirit ancestors used to have in relation to their Nations. Natives who identify as Two-Spirit know we have a responsibility to our Nations, to learn our languages, to keep our ceremonies and protect our children. This was the main work of Two-Spirit people prior to colonization.
Two-Spirit people understand the roles Two-Spirit ancestors had, and how when a child was born into a nation and there was evidence this child had an affinity for work that didn’t align with the gender they were identified with at birth, there was a celebration. There was a big celebration and a feast, it was not the negative response seen in parents today, that they will now never have grandchildren. In fact, if something happened to the parents of a child, the child was given to the Two-Spirit people to raise because rather than reducing that person to someone with a male and female spirit living in one body, there was a spiritual aspect as well. Many Native nations believe Two-Spirit people have one foot in the spirit world and one in the physical, being able to see things that others cannot. Two-Spirit people were considered sacred.
Contrary to stereotypes and pop culture, all Native people are not people of medicine, pipe carriers, lodge keepers and sun dancers, and medicine is more than sage, tobacco, sweetgrass, cedar and corn pollen. Today, Two-Spirit people are engaged in the work of our Two-Spirit ancestors working in medicine, in the arts, in psychology, in law, and other fields that lift our people up. Many are in behavioral health fields, and this is not a coincidence. Not all have completed their “coming-in” processes, but Two-Spirit people are around, they are in your communities trying to recreate the ways of our ancestors in every field.”
Reality: Even for Native/Indigenous persons, just because they are LGBTIIQ, non-binary etc. it doesn’t automatically make them Two-Spirit. Native/Indigenous LGBTIIQ people can BECOME Two-Spirits, but it is not an automatic thing. Indigenous people from other continents and places ALSO had their terms and words for such persons, which they should be using also. For example, in Pasifika, Mahu (Hawai’i and Tahiti), Vaka sa lewa lewa (Fiji), Palopa (Papua New Guinea), Fa’afafine (Samoa), Akava’ine (Rarotonga).
Solutions: If you are “white”, European, etc. research your peoples culture and history and find the original terms for persons like yourself, or work together with your people or “adopted” peers to create a term for yourselves. Stop appropriating and misusing Native/Indigenous terms, cultures and traditions. Why does this keep needing to be said? Why are the collective voices of Native peoples being ignored? The answers to those questions goes straight back to Eurocentrism, privilege and learned behaviors that excuse ignoring someone’s “No”, for one’s own gratification, even if its violating their rights, dignity and life. That’s why we say symbolically to #ForgetWinnetou, which helped spread that practice against Native peoples.
See our call for submissions for a poetry, prose & art anthology celebrating variance relating to this topic, it’s called Varied Spirits. Writers, photographers and artists of any kind or level who identify as transgender, non-binary, gender non-conforming, gender-queer, trans-feminine, trans-masculine, mtf, ftm etc.) and Native/Indigenous persons who identify as two-spirit.
Description: “We live in societies designed to crush our bodies and spirits, that seek to compartmentalize and confine us in every way, especially into heteronormative roles and bodies although gender, sexuality, even intelligence are naturally on a spectrum.
Variance, the state of being varied, is often seen as negative. Yet skills such as adaptability and variability helped our ancestors survive, and today are essential in gaining and maintaining balance, well-being and mindfulness. Being trans and/or also part of other minoritized or marginalized groups adds extras challenges for being accepted as who you are, of just living your life, of feeling safe in society, in your home, in your body.”