History of Two-Spirit

By Adrian Levesque


This Pride season I was asked some thoughtful questions around what it means to me to be Two-Spirit. Coined in 1990, the term Two-Spirit is a Pan-Indigenous Unifier that is an umbrella term used by many Indigenous peoples. In all actuality, different Indigenous cultures have their own descriptors to identify the Indigiqueer individuals within the tribe.

Two-Spirit is a general term that refers to the gender identity, dress, and traditional roles of an individual within their tribe or nation. Depending on which Indigenous nation they were from, historically, many Two-Spirit individuals were responsible for the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of the tribe.

Many Two-Spirit individuals were healers or medicine men and women. Often, they were mediators for the tribe, matchmakers, basket weavers, counselors, knowledge keepers, story tellers and much, much more. Today, many Two-Spirit individuals are seen in a post-colonial lens and are subject to homophobia and extreme violence. Even in a cultural capacity, very few Two-Spirit individuals are able to serve their communities in the same capacity that they would have in the past. Due to the rampant homophobia in western cultures, this has affected the Indigenous population that exists within this framework as well.

One Two-Spirit historical figure of note is We’Wha of the Zuni tribe in New Mexico. We’Wha was a skilled weaver and potter as well as an adept mediator. We’Wha was tasked with the responsibility of acting as ambassador of the tribe in a visit to Washington D.C. to meet with the president at the time, Grover Cleveland. Little is known about what We’Wha’s intention was during the visit. Many have speculated that it had to do with garnering assistance from the U.S. Government to intervene in the tense relations with some of the Zuni’s neighboring nations.

Currently, many Two-Spirit peoples are not involved in ceremony as they once were. If we are lucky, we are accepted by our communities. But the sad reality is that many Two-Spirit peoples are disconnected from their culture and are often not accepted by their nation or communities. This has led to an increase in homelessness, cases of missing persons and has reinforced colonial ideals in Indigenous communities. Although the term of Two-Spirit has been popularized and made more common-place, the acceptance of the lifestyle or role of Two-Spirit individuals has not.

How can we move forward in a good way despite the systemic oppression we experience as Two-Spirit individuals navigating our own intersectional existences? Through education and advocacy. Our very existence, by nature, is a form of protest. We must continue to educate others as to what it means to live and exist as an intersectional, Two-Spirit being.

Adrian Levesque (He/They)

Indigenous Outreach Coordinator, QMUNITY

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