Female-bodied two-spirited women of today: Shea Sandy (left), an Anishinaabe DEcolonizing, Indigenous rights activist, poet/ singer/song writer/multi-instrumentalist, and L.Frank, (right), a Tongva-Acjachemen artist, writer, tribal scholar, cartoonist, and indigenous language activist
“Homophobia and gender hysteria are european values that found their way into some Indigenous cultures only after initial european invasion and during it.” — Shea Sandy
SO MUCH has been and continues to be said and fiercely debated about sex and gender and transgenderism/transsexuality, especially within feminism, with some radical feminists being the most critical and rejecting of trans* identities. The debates are fierce & deafening. I want to strictly stick to a decolonist approach to the issue here. This means trying to think and imagine really hard, what life WAS, IS (in some places), and CAN be like if we lived as indigenously and respectfully with the earth and eachother as possible, and as far away from a colonized mind, heart and spirit as we can (we all come from tribal roots before the process of domestication and so-called “civilization” began). DEcolonization is very hard for those of us who are non-Native, and/or those born into the colonist culture; DEcolonization is a lifelong process that requires active un-mining of the mind — mining done to us by the predatory colonist culture — and undoing the values & behaviors the colonist culture rewards, encourages, and holds so dear, while replacing them with healthier ways of being.
A blogger over at ‘culturallyboundgender‘ (“CBG”) attempted to tackle sex & gender as it relates to trans* identities by writing this article analyzing the Indigenous (American Indian) “two spirit” identity and how it is wrongly being appropriated (meaning to take on or do without consent) by non-Native trans* people. Unfortunately she missed the mark and mis-informed on some important things, and the best person to explain how and why is an actual 2-spirited Indigenous voice.
So below is a response to CBG’s article that comes from Shea Sandy, who is an Indigenous two-spirited woman, artist, and Native rights activist and member of the American Indian Movement for over 20 years. CBG chose not to publish Shea’s response in her blog’s comments section, so I am posting it here because it is important and because traditional (DEcolonized/non-assimilated) Native voices are the ultimate authorities and experts on all matters to do with Indigenous culture – DUH! And naturally, Indigenous two-spirits are the ultimate authorities on two-spiritedness, since it is an indigenous identity. Here Shea speaks for herself and her 2-spirit identity, and not for all two-spirits of the world, since Native voices are as diverse as the many Nations they come from:
Interesting article. I definitely feel as an Indigenous american (Anishinaabekwe) that the Indigenous “Two Spirit” concept by whatever name a particular Tribal Nation calls it – is part of that particular Indigenous Nation’s culture and is not to be appropriated by colonist or non-Indigenous people.
I do not think that all of your information is %100 correct nor that you made the clear distinction between traditional pre-colonization Indigenous cultures and the later post-colonization Indigenous cultures that have been ravaged by genocidal colonists and their push to assimilate to white culture or die. Homophobia for example is something you would pretty much only experience among post colonization non-traditional Indigenous cultures. In other words homophobia and gender hysteria are european values that found their way into some Indigenous cultures only after initial european invasion and during it – obviously we still suffer colonization.
So you may have found an example of an Iroquois person acting very non-traditionally post-colonization, they are well known for this. This does not mean it’s a pure Traditional Iroquois pre-colonization value, but more an assimilated european value that evolved post colonization.
Same goes for another example: of Apache people supposedly not having multiple gender roles. In fact as far as I can tell this idea goes back to the words of ONE single Apache person that was well into the colonization era and quite assimilated into colonist culture, this person did not have the right to speak for all Apache Nations or people. Several Apache Nations are well documented as having and respecting “two-spirit” people. In fact Geronimo who was Chiricahua aka Bedonkohe had a “two-spirit” person among his wives. This was not unheard of among certain warrior societies and sleeping with a “two-spirit” before an important event was/is common Traditionally speaking. Not solely because the person was/is “Two-Spirit” but because that person is a powerful spiritual leader/spiritual medicine person which is a path many “2 Spirits” follow/ed. Of course not all “2 Spirits” are Spiritual healers and not all Spiritual Healers are “”2 Spirit”.
It is extremely important while looking at all of this you must constantly remind yourself, if it is true, that you are not Indigenous American and you are trying to understand something COMPLETELY foreign to you, more so than you ever realized probably, and you are seeing this world through the lens/view/eye of a Non-Indigenous Person… most likely as a white colonist, living on Indigenous home land, continuing the colonization.
You must work hard to learn About Indigenous people only From Indigenous people, they can speak for themselves and do not need white people to write or speak for them, and while doing so you must constantly challenge and remind yourself to try your absolute very best to see Indigenous world views and ways of being through Indigenous eyes, NOT through the old safe and comfortable euro/colonist lens that would see a group of indigenous women making clothes, gathering plants, cooking and caring for young children and see a group of their men coming back from a 4 day hunt, singing, telling stories and laughing with each other and jump to the conclusion that the women are oppressed, men have all the fun and that it’s a patriarchal society just like back in dear old europe (we don’t even really have -archies).
It’s far too easy to jump to assumptions based on what you are familiar with, so really challenge yourselves here to see it as best as you can from an Indigenous perspective.
To the one who wants to know why it’s wrong to appropriate Native/Indigenous Culture: We Indigenous american People have endured over 500 years of a full on Genocidal Invasion by white people, an ongoing Holocaust that some scientists say have killed well over 100 MILLION indigenous people so far, we’ve been forced by these people to assimilate or die, they’ve killed most of us with disease but the rest through barbaric violence and Cultural genocide – the only way we know how to/want to live made illegal with the threat of death as punishment.
They’ve stolen our babies and put them into far away boarding schools, cut their hair, gave them names from the white christian bible, filled their throats with watery soap if they spoke the only language they knew, THEIR OWN Indigenous Language, killing their mother tongue, killing family ties. Whipping them bloody. Humiliating them. Molesting them. Leaving the survivors with wounds so deep, they could only stand to live by numbing the pain with something…anything. And the ones that didn’t survive….nothing. Mass burials that are never spoken of and were done in the most disrespectful ways imaginable.
The colonists won’t let us be, they dig up our sacred sites and graves, murder and rape our women and children and much more….. We are not like magical unicorns from the PAST, or some western movie about how things WERE. No, we are here NOW. There ARE survivors and you don’t need to talk about us in past tense form %100 of the time, it is disrespectful and we are watching….reading. We live in PRISON CAMPS but you like to call them reservations/reserves, like we have a nice night planned out that involves a healthy meal in a place that respects us. When really the most we can usually hope for is a block of half rotten government cheese and a home that WON’T fall in on us tonight or send us outside to sleep in harsh elements so we can escape the smell of the toxic mold. The destruction of the disease of colonization goes on and on and on, too much to document it all here.
Everywhere we look in our homeland there is colonization smothering out the Indigenous.
…….and then you want to know why you shouldn’t take just a little more from us???
To those that wish to appropriate Indigenous culture by claiming to be “Two Spirited”: Lots of animals are homosexual or “gender variant” or inter-sexed. You’re not really all that special in that department, why take from our culture yet again to deal with something that is your own problem?
If you think certain ways of ours make sense then take a note. Figure out what is wrong so that you can figure out what is right. Then name yourselves and claim it and own it and honor it and we will too.
I just want to address one (of many) colonist-mentality excerpts from culturallyboundgender’s article:
“[A]lmost always, when you see gender roles, even if there are more than two, you can bet money that it’s just a matter of reclassifying people who don’t fit into a culture’s otherwise rigidly defined sex roles.”
Not every culture in the world is hellbent on “classifying” things, i.e. dividing and labeling (and ‘conquering’) every aspect of life quite like the control-freak, OCD & attention deficit-riddled colonist culture. Nor does every culture on earth, past or present, have “rigidity” when dealing with whatever. Right off the bat, “classification” and “rigidity” are very colonist culture-specific. We are ALL centric to whatever culture we grew up in, which is not a bad thing! But to try and analyze other cultures and think we can do so with any sort of objectivity or deep clarity and understanding is just impossible. Doesn’t matter how many PhD’s someone has in Aboriginal Studies or African studies or whatever, if we are not an intricate part of whatever culture we “study”, or if we are not a genetic member of said culture, then chances are, we know very little about it, and any analysis we do will undoubtedly be inaccurate to some degree because of the mindset used to think about it. Culture is a profound thing, an important and critical part of human life, and it shapes us. The key is not in dismissing or minimizing the impact or importance culture plays in human life, but to recognize and then replace the unhealthy aspects of a culture with healthy ones. You cannot have life without culture. All living beings have culture. And cultures are so radically diverse. Indigenous cultures, though vastly diverse, seem to have the common element of respecting and preserving all aspects of Life, while colonist/”civilized” cultures have the common element of disrespecting, controlling and destroying all aspects of Life.
Next time you listen to and believe non-Indigenous people claiming to be scholarly experts of American Indian culture, it is very important to remember that no matter how many pieces of framed paper hang on people’s wall or how many letters come after their name:
“A master’s degree in ‘Indian Studies’ or in ‘education’ or in anything else cannot make a person into a human being or provide knowledge into traditional ways. It can only make you into a mental European, an outsider.” (Russell Means)