Today is Indigenous People’s day: a celebration of the diverse Indigenous peoples of the American Continents. Formerly known as Columbus day, Vermont officially changed the holiday’s name to Indigenous People’s Day in 2016 to acknowledge the history of oppression and genocide that Christopher Columbus represents.
We would like to acknowledge the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the Wabanaki Confederacy, Nanrantsouak and Abenaki / Abénaquis on which we are learning, working and organizing today. It is important for us to honor the resiliency and strength of Indigenous peoples, and recognize the generational harm and trauma caused by the colonization of this land. We need to examine Vermont’s history of eugenics, ethnic cleansing, and erasure of Abenaki culture and community; and commit to fighting back against the systems of oppression that have dispossessed Indigenous peoples of their lands.
In honor of the many groups that inhabited and thrived in the continent for thousands of years before Columbus and the colonizers who followed him, we here at the Pride Center would like to celebrate gender and sexual diversity in Indigenous communities.
Two-Spirit is an umbrella term used to bridge Indigenous and Western understandings of gender and sexuality. Many, but not all, Indigenous Nations have a Nation-specific word used to describe members of their communities who would fit within the Two-Spirit umbrella. Much of this history was stripped from Indigenous people during colonization; colonizers forced Western understandings of a binary gender system (men & women) onto Indigenous people. The term “Two-Spirit” emerged in the 1990’s as a way to reestablish the importance of different gender and sexual identities within indigenous cultures.
This is the definition from the Two-Spirit Society of Denver:
“The term two spirit refers to another gender role believed to be common among most, if not all, first peoples of Turtle Island (North America), one that had a proper and accepted place within indigenous societies.This acceptance was rooted in the spiritual teachings that say all life is sacred and that the Creator must have a reason for making someone different.This gender role was not based in sexual activities or practices, but rather the sacredness that comes from being different.”
While Two-Spirit people are sometimes included in the LGBTQ2+ acronym, it is important to note that the terms “Two-Spirit” and “LGBTQ+” are not synonymous. The term “Two-Spirit” celebrates identities that predate Western imposition of gender and has no connection to the Western culture in which LGBTQIA+ identities emerged. Some two-spirit individuals identify within the LGBTQ+ community, but some do not. It is an Indigenous-specific word that holds many meanings to different people.
To learn more about Two-Spirit identities, watch these videos from Two-Spirit folks explaining what their identities mean to them:
Awesome Two-Spirit Activists to Follow & Learn About
Dr. James Makokis, Leader in trans health care in Enoch Cree Nation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSnvtj0G3cA
Beverly Little Thunder, Activist & Author: https://www.strongnations.com/gs/show.php?gs=3&gsd=5259
Ty Defoe, Writer and Interdisciplinary Artist: https://www.tydefoe.com/
Xemiyulu Manibusan Tapepechul, Trans & Two-Spirit Playwright, Actor, Spoken Word Artist : https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/uplifting-two-spirits-xemiyulu-manibusan-tapepechul
Storme Webber, Writer, Poet, & Interdisciplinary Artist: https://www.stormwebber.com/
Chrystos, Poet & Activist: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/chrystos
Qwo-Li Driskill, Writer & Educator: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/qwo-li-driskill
Passamaquoddy, Two Spirit activist & Maine’s first elected Two-Spirit official: https://www.instagram.com/niskapisuwin/?hl=en
Susan Allen, recently elected two spirit congresswoman: https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/minnesota-lawmaker-finds-strength-two-spirit-identity-n687141
Some Ways to Support Two-Spirit People
- Educate yourself on the experiences and perspectives of Two-Spirit people
- Identify relevant resources and be ready to refer someone in need
- Reflect stereotypes and assumptions you hold on 2SLGBTQI+ and Indigenous peoples Know how to intervene when racism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia happen Respect and support the choice of Two-Spirit trans people in using the pronouns of their choice
- Do not lay claim to Two-Spirit identity if you are not Indigenous
Indigenous Artisans & Organizations to Support
Other Resources & Stories
Alexander Bobella l Anne Moyerbrailean l Taylor Small l Gustavo Mercado Muñiz l Mike Bensel l Justin Marsh l Reggie Condra l Richard Elliot l Skylar Wolfe