Native Americans and Homosexuality - The Way of the Two Spirited People.
THE WAY OF THE TWO SPIRITED PEOPLE
Native American concepts of gender and sexual orientation
By Sandra Laframboise and Michael Anhorn
The two-spirited person is a native tradition that researchers have identified in some of the earliest discoveries of Native artifacts. Much evidence indicates that Native people, prior to colonization, believed in the existence of cross-gender roles, the male-female, the female-male, what we now call the two-spirited person.
In Native American culture, before the Europeans came to the America's, "two-spirit" referred to an ancient teaching. This type of cross-gender identity has been documented in over 155 tribes across Native North America (Roscoe 1988).
Our Elders tell us of people who were gifted among all beings because they carried two spirits, that of male and female. It is told that women engaged in tribal warfare and married other women, as there were men who married other men. These individuals were looked upon as a third and fourth gender in many cases and in almost all cultures they were honoured and revered. Two-spirit people were often the visionaries, the healers, the medicine people, the nannies of orphans, the care givers (Roscoe 1988). They were respected as fundamental components of our ancient culture and societies. This is our guiding force as well as our source of strength. This is the heart of Two-Spirited People of the 1st Nations (2 Spirit Nation of Ontario) This paper explores what we know of the past of two-spirit people, compares that to the present experience and looks forward to the role that two-spirit people could play in the future of First Nation's people in Canada and across North America.
Before beginning our discussion on two-spirit people and their roles, it is necessary to take a moment to discuss the terminology used here. Native and Native American are used to refer to the peoples who inhabited North America before European contact. Certain quotations also use the term First Nation's to refer to the same. These terms are in common usage among First Nation's people in Canada to refer to themselves. In addition, the term two-spirit refers to the concepts of gender variant people in Native America traditions. Early explorers of North America refered to this concept as berdache. Two-spirit is preferred as it emerged from Native American people whereas berdache was imposed upon Native American's by the colonial explorers.
The Past - Uncommon gender identity integrated into society
Most tribes were aware of the existence of two-spirit people, and many still have a name in their traditional language for them.
For example, The Din éh (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, the Cheyenne as he man eh, etc. (Roscoe, 1988).Some tribes had different names for two-spirited men and women. Other tribes, though, did not have such a concept.
The abundance of terms that we find as we study various tribes testifies to the familiarity of Native Americans with gender-variant people. It is important to note that this is different than sexual orientation as such words did not exist in Native languages. Concern for appropriate terminology should always be on one's mind because 'Gender' is an obligatory grammatical category in the English/French and Latin languages. It is a linguistic term and has no connection with biological sex or social identity of an individual. This issue comes to a head in the area where 'gender' intersects with the Native people of North America. Many non-natives have misinterpreted two-spirit as referring to people with homosexual tendencies, when in fact, the ceremonies and practices were based on different genders being manifested, and not on sexual preferences or practices.