8 Things You Should Know About Two Spirit People

Tony Enos at Oceti Sakowin in front of the Two-Spirit Nation camp.

Tony Enos

Two Spirit has been present for countless generations that predate LGBTQ terminology.

When attempting to explain the concept of Two Spirit people in Indian country, many people may visualize images of Unicorns and Rainbows, Donna Summers and Seventies disco balls. Try to explain the concept of Two Spirit outside Indian country, and you may as well throw in war bonnets and glitter.

The term Two Spirit has been present in Native communities for countless generations that predate LGBTQ terminology. For generations, Two Spirit Native culture went underground to avoid detection and persecution.

Today the Two Spirit movement has been negatively affected by rumor, gossip, the tyranny of western religion, and an all-around lack of information.

Here are eight misconceptions and/or things you should know about Two Spirit people that may help foster a better understanding of the Two Spirit community.

Two Spirit is not a contemporary “new-age” movement

While the term Two Spirit was coined in 1990 In Winnipeg, Canada as a means of unifying various gender identities and expressions of Native American/First Nations/Indigenous individuals, the term is not a specific definition of gender, sexual orientation or other self-determining catch-all phrase, but rather an umbrella term.

Two Spirit people have both a male and female spirit within them and are blessed by their Creator to see life through the eyes of both genders.

The term does not diminish the tribal-specific names, roles and traditions nations have for their own Two Spirit people. Examples of such names are the winkte among the Lakota and the nadleeh among the Navajo people.

These names and roles go back to a time before western religion. Two Spirit is not a “New Age” movement, but rather a reclamation of Two Spirit’s rightful place in Native culture.

We have proof of Two Spirit individuals in historical photos

A quick google search will render black and whites from decades ago with Two Spirit tribal members from various nations, such as We’wha, a very well-known and documented Two Spirit of the Zuni people, who crossed over in 1896.

Gay is not an interchangeable term with Two Spirit

Being a gay native is oftentimes confused with being Two Spirit. While the two may have parallels and intersections, they are not the same. Gay specifically is about attraction to a person of the same sex. Two Spirit is more about the embodiment of two genders residing within one person.

A Two Spirit person may be gay, but a gay person is not necessarily Two Spirit. Claiming the role of Two Spirit is to take up the spiritual responsibility that the role traditionally had. Walking the red road, being for the people and our children/youth, and being a guiding force in a good way with a good mind are just some of those responsibilities.

The Two Spirit Road is a road of long held traditions, prayer and responsibility

Living as a Two Spirit is not all pride parades and hot pants. To be of service to our elders and youth with our very particular medicine is paramount. If we lose our traditions, our songs, our medicines, and our languages, and make no effort to restore what was lost, we doom ourselves.

In 2016 Two Spirit nation at Oceti Sakowin built the Cannonball River prayer pier, to be used for water ceremonies. Knee deep in mud on a cold 2016 November morning, the Two Spirit camp worked till sundown, so that our women and elders could have a place to pray the following morning. Actual events such a this are now part of our modern history as Two Spirit people and should never be minimized. As with all of Native culture, Two Spirit is also a living culture.

Two Spirit people held significant roles and were an integral part of a tribal social structures

Two Spirit people held a meaningful place in the sacred hoop. In many tribes Two Spirits were balance keepers. Thought to be the “dusk” between the male morning, and the female evening. As the role has evolved over time as necessary, the tradition is still alive. At Two Spirit gatherings and communal events, we can be found saying prayers that have needed to be said for decades, and fostering healing to all present. Restoring much needed balance to spirit.

Two Spirit Does Not Indicate Colonized Boxed Definitions of “L”, “G”, “B”, “T” or “Q”

We can be all of these, or none of these. A western mindset categorizes based on standards of ‘norm’ and ‘other’ in a kyriarchal (to rule or dominate) type structure. This mindset imposes a series of boxes to fit into (you’re either gay, you’re a lesbian, etc.) rather than being comfortable with gender fluidity, Two Spirit acknowledges the continuum of gender identity and expression.

Two Spirit is a term only appropriate for Native people

Two Spirit is a role that existed in a Native American/First Nations/Indigenous tribe for gender queer, gender fluid, and gender non-conforming tribal members. If you don’t have a tribe, you can’t claim that role.

Two Spirit People face compounded trauma’s on top of inter-generational trauma

Imagine going from your nation where you’re a celebrated Two Spirit individual, to a boarding school where you’re assigned your gender, with any push back about it being beat out of you. For a lot of our boarding school survivors (and those who didn’t survive), this was their reality. As a result, there is still healing from much internalized socio-political stigma, phobia, and lateral oppression to be done in the Two Spirit community.

The resilience, strength, and sheer indomitable will of Two Spirit people is something to be shared with all nations. When you watch the sun rise every day, the sun set every evening, and the moon come out each night, remember the miracle of Two Spirit people. Not unnatural, not evil, or perverse, just all things in balance, and everything in divine order.

Follow Tony Enos on Twitter at @TonyEnos

Comments (33)
No. 1-18
Sekgametsi
Sekgametsi

Thank you for the explanation. If I understand correctly gender fluidity is an acceptable reality in lived experiences of The People and it was colonizing influences that attempts to obliterate this reality.

MaggieCr
MaggieCr

There was a film with Dustin Hoffman where he played the part of a Two-Spirit Indian. The name of the film is Little Big Man. I thought it explained this pretty well.

SWine
SWine

Really informative article. Thank you. I don't know if the Little Big Man portrayal of a Two Spirit person was good, but it was not Dustin Hoffman who portrayed the Heemaneh, Little Horse. The actor is Robert Little Star.

MorganLA
MorganLA

I respect all the words written above. But, what will you do when red start coming back in white bodies? Will you tell us we don't exist and leave us to rot?

MorganLA
MorganLA

*red spirits

MorganLA
MorganLA

Forgive any disrespect, please.

7904semc
7904semc

After 57 years of gender confusion finally I find what I identify as me. I thought. I was adopted and cannot locate my biological parents. I've been told only that I am 1/2 French, 1/4 Spanish and 1/4 Chippewa. No way to prove anything though. Now imagine my disappointment to find out that one cannot be Two Spirit unless one belongs to a tribe.

7904semc
7904semc

After 57 years of gender confusion finally I find what I identify as me. I thought. I was adopted and cannot locate my biological parents. I've been told only that I am 1/2 French, 1/4 Spanish and 1/4 Chippewa. No way to prove anything though. Now imagine my disappointment to find out that one cannot be Two Spirit unless one belongs to a tribe.

Eaglesnest3
Eaglesnest3

I have always felt different, two spirited but in many different ways! I have had dreams from spirit teachers aka animals many times, but have always felt lost, different, strange like a loner between worlds!

GamerGuy602
GamerGuy602

I don't "have a tribe" but I am still Native on my dad's side. It isn't my fault that he abandoned my mother, taking with him any hope of finding out where I come from on the paternal side. Does this mean I can't be Two-Spirit? Why? Even before learning of this term, I have been dedicated to bringing healing to all people, I have fulfilled the same roles within the communities I am able to be a part of. Everything described in this article applies to me and resonates with me. I understand and agree with the need to keep non-Native people from appropriating Native culture. But where do I fit in?

pcjm
pcjm

No Tony. Gay(sic) is males sexually attracted to and pair bonding with males. Lesbians are Women. We name OURselves separate from males and are NOT gay. Never have been. Nor does gay include Lesbians undernsome “male umbrella”, just as “man” does NOT “include” Female.

Dnpuckitt
Dnpuckitt

"Tyranny of western religion" Youve got to be kidding me.

I wish i could go back to knowing nothing about "two spirits".

Marxism is so disgusting.

icecream3
icecream3

thanks! this gave me a lot of good information, i will be returning to this site

Deciduous_Livingston
Deciduous_Livingston

I'm genuinely glad I didn't think any of the stuff the intro assumed I thought lol. Before this piece, I had no idea what two-spirit meant, so I didn't really have an opinion on it. It didn't really conjure any of those images to mind regardless.

Nomolies
Nomolies

The facts surrounding the tale of 2 spirits is less then 1000 years ago native tribes have a spiritualism's that is based on the energy of the universe just like those in Kemet. The to spirit you speak of in tribes for native Americans did not exist until about 1500 which is when they actually had some serious contact with Europeans raping them if you don't believe me check out 1400 as far as taking natives back to Europe and then bringing them back here to the Americas after they have been assimilated to European societee and a train of thought

waltinseattle
waltinseattle

As others above I have no tribal enrollment. I have no known non european blood. I have no assigned 2S role in any social system. But this is the only classification I am comfortable with. Wovoka was right (we're back), but to be shunned because of "officially recognized group by Queen (Ca)or Feds (USA)?

Freedomtoknow678
Freedomtoknow678

No such thing as 2 spirit. Spirit is not a being of supernatural. Spirit is defined as character, you confuse spirit with SOUL, soul is a breath of God/creator, how ever you chose to define the supreme being. Spirit is a collection of your being, that is, emotion, sociological and psychological, spirit is either molded by your upbringing and personal viewpoints based on your ego. Ego is defined as id. Soul has no gender, only the physical biological has gender and therefore has no desire other than as a protesting ability. Whereas sexual desires and relationships is based on emotional psychological and sociological needs.

bhangad1
bhangad1

I have always felt different, two spirited but in many different ways! I have had dreams from spirit teachers aka animals many times, but have always felt lost, different, strange like a loner between worlds!


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