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Two Spirit


Heather Shay

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I ran across the term "Two Spirits" several years ago and found that in Native cultures men who want to be women and women who want to be men but had no way to have their bodies align properly just went ahead and dressed and lived as the other gender AND the tribes respected them and believed they were special people, not unlike medicine men or prophets. Although it doesn't quite fit my own belief that I was born with the wrong separation when the physical sex was determined in the womb, the concept of two spirit kind of fits.  I thought it would be nice to find out what you think about the term and how it fits or doesn't fit your journey. Gosh wouldn't it be nice if our culture respected ofor who we are. What the generally public can't see (our interior lives) they can't seem to accept. It is the same for those with psychological issues - if you can't see it - it doesn't exist as far as the general public seem to think.

 

If you aen't aware of the term here is a little bit of background for you.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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


 

 
 
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  • 4 weeks later...

Hi @Shay. Good article, thanks for sharing.  I conversed with others in another two-spirit thread concerning what may or may not be considered cultural appropriation. 

 

For most of my life, I was told that I was of Cherokee decent, along with other cultures. I have pictures from my mother of the Cherokee woman who was the matriarch from whom I inherited the lineage. I studied Tsalagi history and culture for many decades beginning in my early teens.  

 

Several years ago I had and ancestry DNA test done and it shows no Native American DNA. This raise a lot of questions for me about the oral histories that I were imparted to me. It confirmed my English, Scottish and Nordic roots, of which I have traced back quite a ways; my Scottish line going back to the early 1300s. 

 

But the stories about my Cherokee ancestry plagued me.  My older sister confirmed the tales and she has in her possession photos and trinkets from our Native American ‘grandmother’.  So we’ve collaborated a bit in the search.  

 

It is is possible to be of a certain lineage but not carry the DNA. Done we are each handed down half our chromosomes from each parent, we may or may not carry all the genes from a particular ancestry.  My older brother and sister not posses typical physical traits consistent with Native American characteristics - darker skin, high cheek bones, etc...  I however, no not share these.

 

But one of the lines I traced, and am still investigating, indicates that maybe this woman was a surrogate grandmother who, along with her husband, a great uncle, raised my grandfather/father  as their own since his own father was a drifter.  But it doesn’t explain the physical appearances of my older siblings.  I suspect there is more to the stories than we’ve been told, but there are none alive today who can verify them. 

 

That said, I embrace my Celtic heritage passionately and have also embraced much of what I’ve believed to be a native ancestry passionately as well. So much so that at one time, I had contemplated applying to the Eastern Band of The Cherokee Nation for citizenship.  

 

It it would be interesting to see what my sister’s DNA results would show if she was tested. 

 

All that said, most of us are from mixed ancestries. In this modern world, it is often very difficult to find identity in any other culture than the one in which we are raised.   I was raised in very rural central Appalachian tradition - one where English, Scots-Irish and Cherokee cultures mixed freely and from which each drew upon the other’s beliefs, customs and way of life.

 

I am the culmination of these things by my personal experience and the way I was brought up.

 

While the idea of Two-Spirit isn’t a term that applied to traditional Cherokee culture, to the best of my research , it is an idea that applies to much of who I am. Much the same as old soul or second sight applies. And though I am not Jewish,  I embrace Christianity as well.  

 

I guess what Im saying is this, we are defined not just by our blood, but by our life experiences, our beliefs and our personal heritage as well. And we choose what we embrace. 

 

Peace this day. 

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@Jennifer T wonderful response. You sparked a memory. My Grandfather on my father's side looks like a pure Native American although I never could find out about that side of the family and I haven't had DNA checked - think I will. I also don't have Irish blood but a LOT of the songs I write have Irish feel to them... now I'm intersted in finding out more. THANK YOU.

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@Shay, one thing I’ve noticed about Celtic blood (Irish, Scottish, Welsh, etc...), if you have it in you, it calls deeply to you - the old ways seem to beckon from the ancients and the rhythms of the home lands will pull at your heart from distant memories. 

 

Good of luck in your search!!  If you do the DNA thing, I would be interested in the results.  

 

Peace.

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@Jennifer T That must be it - because I don't know where these Celtic influenced songs I write come from. I wasn't exposed to theat style of music - it's a mystery to me and I think you put your finger on it. If I do the DNA I will report back.

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Speaking of Native blood I was waiting out a torrential down pour and a song came to me and it was to be called Red Cloud. At the time I'd never knew there was a famous Red Cloud Oglala Sioux. So I researched and found out about him and added the needed lyrics. I've attached it so you might listen.

red cloud.mp3

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I can’t seem to download your mp3 file.

 

Did you ever read “”Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”?  You should if you haven’t. 

 

Did you also also know that Shay is an English form of the Irish name Séaghdha?

 

?

 

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I have read Dee Brown's amazing book. And in 1982 the name Shay came to me and has made sure to remind me from time to time. I had never heard the name before and have never known anyone or heard of anyone with that name.

I have a blog called the Sweet Spot and did one about Red Cloud. Maybe you can download that mp3

 

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Don't know. There is a topic on front page that says to use it if you find problems. Maybe they can help us.

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Thank you, @Shay.  I just listened and I am impressed!  Loved the whole feel of the song. And the acoustics accentuated the mood and the history of the Sioux with an abiding whisper of the ancients.  Well done!

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@Jennifer T Thank you - glad you liked it - I think Red Cloud actually wrote it and used me as a vehicle...

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Hi Shay. Since we were discussing Native American I thought I’d share something interesting here with you.

 

I mowed my lawn today, which is a chore for me.   

Afterwards, I got a beer and my pipe and decided to sit on my deck and have a smoke. Though it may sound weird, I gave God thanks for the gift of tobacco.  I truly enjoy these moments and smoking is a sort of a transcendental ritual for me. As I lit up, an emerald hummingbird flew by and landed in the dogwood tree in front of me. I sat transfixed watching him as he performed his self cleaning. I’ve never witnessed a hummingbird at rest, only always in motion.  I was amazed to see that at rest, they move no faster than any other bird. 

I watched for about 5 minutes then got up to get my wife so she could see. It continued for a few  more minutes then flew over to me and hovered over my head for a few seconds, so close I could hear his buzzing. I was ecstatic!!  Then he flew on.

So I started researching hummingbird folklore.  Hummingbirds are only indigenous to the Americas.  Immediately I came across this Cherokee legend:

 

“A Cherokee legend tells of a hummingbird bringing tobacco back to the people after it was stolen by the evil Dagul'ku goose.  The legend has it that in ancient times all of the animals and people could speak the same language.  There was only one large tobacco plant in existence for everyone to use.  One day the evil and greedy Dagul'ku goose stole the plant and took it far away and guarded it.  All sorts of animals went to try to retrieve it and were killed by the goose.  A hummingbird convinced the others that it could get to the plant unseen because of its great speed and agility.  The bird quickly flew to the plant unseen by Dagul'ku and took a piece containing leaves and seeds from the very top.  He returned and everyone had tobacco again.  The really interesting thing about this story is that an old woman was dying without access to the tobacco.  The hummingbird saved her life with the leaves he brought back which were burned and the life-giving smoke was wafted into her nostrils.  What a contract to our views on smoking today!”

 

I was amazed!  I was wondering what I was being told.  

As I sat hear deciding to write this, another visitor paid me a visit.  She sat on my leg for a while as I spoke with her.

 

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I am deeply thankful for the natural world and all of its inhabitants.  They are often messengers.  And I ask God to allow me to hear.

Peace this day.

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@Jennifer T that is an amazing story and you were meant to witness it and learn about it and share it and I am thankful you shared it with me. There are miracles all around us if we only have the eyes to see and ears to hear and the spirit to taken it in.

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  • 6 months later...
On 9/13/2020 at 5:51 PM, Shay said:

@Jennifer T that is an amazing story and you were meant to witness it and learn about it and share it and I am thankful you shared it with me. There are miracles all around us if we only have the eyes to see and ears to hear and the spirit to taken it in.

 

Hello Shay. 

Thought i’d relay another experience from last week. It was a splendid afternoon. So when I came home from work I grabbed a couple drums, sat on my deck and played some freestyle rhythms followed by a triple set of pre-recorded songs - all are deeply spiritual to me. But the emotion flowed as I launched into the final song. It’s call “Holy Water” and it takes me to a beautiful place of praise and thankfulness in my heart and the rhythm flows from my hands without thought.

 

Midway through the song, I heard the scream of a hawk. I looked up and there it was, gracefully circling above me. I watched as I continued, and as my heart gave thanks, I noticed the second hawk circling a little higher.

 

It was beautiful to watch them soar as my heart climbed to the rhythm of praise in my heart. It was as if creation responded to the praise offered to God. Or God acknowledging the praise through winged messengers.  ❤️

 

The week was emotional for me as I reflected on the events that the week represented/celebrated in my faith. 

 

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