Revealing A Second Spirit

Photo: Katie Rainbow via Pixels

Native Indigenous American Culture: Two Spirit

Who are the Two Spirit people? A Two Spirit person is a Native American, an Indigenous person who transcends gender roles. A Two Spirit person is born a sex and displays “typical” gender roles of another, or both. Such as being born female and becoming a tribe Chief who provides and supports wives. Or, born a male who dresses feminine and practices non-violence and “home making” skills. There are so many combinations because each person is unique, and all are accepted in Native spiritual belief. All life is valuable in the spirituality of Indigenous people.

A term coined by Elder Myra Laramee in 1990, the Two Spirit persons is a concept Indigenous people have accepted for many centuries. Being “Two-Spirited”  is common among most, if not all, ‘First People’ of North America (Turtle Island). This acceptance was rooted in the spiritual teachings that say all life is sacred ” (InQueery). 

Who is not a Two Spirit person? People without Indigenous heritage are not included in Two Spirit. Western culture has many options in labeling and understanding sexuality in umbrella terms of the LGBTQIA community. Non-Natives who identify as LGBTQIA have fought hard and had great loss to be recognized in law and to marry who they love. But they are not Two Spirit people. Two Spirit is a spiritual and Indigenous distinguishable term reserved for those who were forced to hide from colonizers for centuries.

After first contact, Jesuit Priests recorded the Two Spirit people as “Berdashe,” (Berr-dash), among the Indigenous tribes in which they traded with. This term was adopted by early anthropologists and widely used for male to feminine gender roles, however mostly ignored and erased from history, were the female to masculine roles, which were important to the history of the tribes. 

Overlooking the female to masculine role by colonizers is an obvious narrative change to continue the falsehood that women can’t do “men’s” work.

A famous Two Spirit person of the current Tribe of New Mexico is We’wha of the Zuni people. We’wha is masculine feminine, a notable fiber artist, weaver, and potter. They served as a cultural ambassador for Native Americans and Indigenous people in general, and even met with President Grover Cleveland and weaved a blanket for attendants of the meeting on the lawn of the Whitehouse. They used both male and female pronouns and formed a friendship with anthropologist Matilda Coxe Stevenson, who documented the important role of the Zuni people. We’wha was seemingly the most intelligent person of the pueblo people and because of the love and respect of all Zunis, We’wha word became their way of life. 

Why we don’t say the “B” word anymore? “Berdashe” in French means “kept boy” or “slave”, which is wildly inaccurate. The members of the Zuni tribes were accepted and played valuable roles in their society. Because of this horrible stigma, this word turned them into deviants. Through the centuries and colonization, these “Berdashe’s” were targeted in violent ways and still are to this day. The term “Berdashe” is now considered more than offensive and taboo. “Two Spirit” is the accepted term by First Nations people.

By celebrating the Two Spirit Powwow, Indigenous people can celebrate their true selves, their heritage, and express themselves through regalia, music, dance, and art. It’s an LGBTQIA friendly event, and all dancers are welcome.

The suppression of Two Spirited people is still seen today. Silenced for centuries, Indigenous women and Two Spirit people have been going missing by the thousands, stolen and taken without help of search. 

  • Lisa Tatonetti (2014) The queerness of Native American literature, University of Minnesota Press.
  • Walter L. Williams (1992) The spirit and the flesh, Beacon Press.

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