Language, culture, and Two-Spirit identity.

While it has not been very evident lately, I am a huge language geek.  As in, I’m a little obsessed with language and how it relates to culture, to identity, to understanding the world around you.

The Native Youth Sexual Health Network has a series of beautiful Two-Spirit posters.

If you speak another language, or have even tried to learn another language, you realise pretty early on that although you might be using a comparable term in one language as in another, the connotations involved can be radically different.  When you translate a word, you don’t usually unpack those connotations. Without careful thought, you may simply switch from one context to the other, and not notice that you’re no longer discussing the same things.

Not sure what I mean?  Consider the English term ‘justice’.  Let that word roll around in your head.  I bet you can think of all sorts of variations on that term in English.  Natural justice, vigilante justice, impartial justice, social justice, etc.  Each variation is shaded by another layer of connotations, all rooted within a particular socio-political structure that you have likely been raised slowly learning about, indirectly and directly.

The concept of ‘what justice means’ varies depending on which socio-political context you’re in.  It seems obvious when you think about it, but we don’t always actually consider it enough.  When I say this word to you in English, I am pretty certain that you’ll have a somewhat comparable understanding of the term as I do (provided I’m thinking in English), though we may quibble on the details.

How I would choose to translate that word ‘justice’ into another language would depend on what aspect of justice (in English) I was trying to convey.  Unless there was an easy-peasy equivalent like justicia (Spanish) or justice (French). Of course, what ‘justice’ means in different Spanish-speaking countries or in French speaking jurisdictions may (and does) also vary widely, so be careful about those supposed equivalents.

There is no such easy equivalent I can think of in Cree, so I would have to be more specific.  Would I mean kwayaskwâtisiwin?  Connotations of straightness, of even-handed fairness.  No connotations of a rigid procedure and notions of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, no images of a court-room with a judge.  Getting someone to understand English common-law procedural norms of justice would take some serious explaining, Lucy.  It would take translating cultural context. There is no single word-equivalent I could rely on, making it less likely I’ll fall into the trap of using a word that seems the same but is not.

It does not take a person long to figure these things out once they spend a bit of time considering it.  Yet that moment when you first realise that an ‘equivalent’ or ‘translated’ term means something very different from the same term in English, is pretty amazing.  Even if you do not fully understand those differences, just recognising that because of historical and cultural differences, the way people who speak that language percieve the term is not the same way you perceive it, means you’ve been given a very important insight.

Peace, baby!

pêyâhtakêyimowin  (pay-yah-tu-kay-YI-moo-win)  often gets translated into English as ‘peace’.  If you’re hasty, then you might start using it in the same way you use ‘peace’ in English.  To mean an end to hostilities perhaps.  Except that’s not what it means.

Two-spirit societies and events like Two-Spirit powwows are becoming more common.

pêyâhtakêyimowin refers to peace within yourself.  I suppose ‘inner peace’ might be an okay equivalent.  Within the word pêyâhtakêyimowin there are aspects of taking things slowly, being careful, being quiet, not getting riled up.  There are further cultural connotations involved in concepts like ‘being careful’, and ‘being quiet’ and ‘going slowly’.  At the very least, I have to provide you with at least four concepts in order to even begin to give you a sense of what this word actually means.

You might argue that ‘peace’ can be used in that same way in English, and you’re probably right…but the reverse is not true.  I cannot use pêyâhtakêyimowin to mean an end to hostilities.  It simply makes no sense.  I’d have to use the word wîtaskîwin , and even then we would not necessarily think of what this means in the same way. (Fun fact for Albertans, wîtaskîwin = Wetaskawin.)

But if you and I are talking and I have to speak in English because you don’t understand Cree, then I’m probably going to default to the term ‘peace’.  In my head, I have the idea of pêyâhtakêyimowin.  In your head, you have your understanding of the term ‘peace’.  Every time I use the word ‘peace’ it is going to trigger English-language cultural connotations.  You might start thinking of me as a hippy new-age flake if I say it too often.  I might start forgetting that it makes you think of a specific thing, mistakenly believing you and I are on the same page in terms of its meaning.

This kind of thing happens all the time when you try to translate concepts into other languages.  We do it because it is necessary when dealing with people who do not speak your language, and we are pretty aware that misunderstandings can occur and we need to be careful.

I came here to read about Two-Spirit identity, why am I reading this language stuff?

Oh, right, sorry.  I get carried away talking about language sometimes.

Intersectional identities, transgendered and indigenous. The term Two-Spirit clearly indicates that intersectionality.

In my parent’s and grandparent’s time, the term berdache was used to refer to indigenous transgendered individuals, but also got used a fair amount to refer to native homosexual men.  It wasn’t the most positive term, and in 1990 during an inter-tribal Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference in Winnipeg, the term “Two-Spirit” was chosen to replace it.

Some say that the term was a translation from Anishinaabemowin  (niizh manidoowag).  The term was deliberately chosen to be an umbrella term, a specifically pan-Indian concept encompassing sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity.

I think it is a useful term because it is so broad, and that kind of terminology that acknowledged indigenous beliefs and traditions was absolutely needed.

However, like many pan-Indian concepts, it is sometimes overly broad.  I also feel that because it is an English term, it becomes coloured by settler beliefs.  For some historical context on how indigenous traditions regarding those we now call Two-Spirited were interpreted by settlers, this blog is excellent.

Nation specific terms

I have been trying to find Cree-specific terms for Two-Spirit identities for many years.  It has become easier recently with groups like the Nêhiyawêwin (Cree) Word of the Day.  A lot of the terms have been forgotten and are not known by many.  Still, sometimes when you ask, you receive.

Click on the image to watch the film Two Spirits, trigger warning for transphobic violence. The film deals with the murder of Fred Martinez, a 16-year old Two-Spirited Navajo. It also discusses traditional/contemporary Two-Spirit experiences.

Learning the words is not enough, however.  Digging deeper and trying to understand the way that native peoples viewed Two-Spirited individuals is also important.  Without that, all we have are ‘equivalents’, words that we cannot help but think of in the context of their English counterparts.  Like or not (NOT!) most of us have been educated within the Canadian system, and European notions of homosexuality, of gender and just sex in general have found their way into every nook and cranny of our minds.  Decolonisation involves becoming aware of this and consciously trying to reclaim what existed before.  It is no easy task.

Anyway, I wanted to share some of the terms shared by Cree speakers, with many thanks to those who have shared what information they do have. There is of course going to be disagreement on some of these terms, most certainly in the sense of what they actually mean, but also whether they are authentic terms. There have also been many cautions that these may simply be translations from English into Cree, as no one expressed a strong familiarity with traditional roles for these people.  Yet I thought it was a good start.

I am not 100% certain of the pronunciation for these words, as I may miss where a macron is needed to alter the sound of a vowel, but I’ll give it a shot!

  • napêw iskwêwisêhot (nu-PAYO ihs-gwayo-WIH-say-hoht), a man who dresses as a woman
  • iskwêw ka napêwayat (ihs-GWAYO ga nu-PAYO-wuh-yut), a woman dressed as a man 
  • ayahkwêw (U-yuh-gwayo), a man dressed/living/accepted as a woman.  I can see the ‘woman’ part of this word, but I am confused about the possible meaning of the rest of the word.  Some have suggested this word can actually be used as a ‘third’ gender of sorts, applied to women and men.
  • înahpîkasoht (ee-nuh-PEE-gu-soot), a woman dressed/living/accepted as a man. (also translated as someone who fights everyone to prove they are the toughest?  Interesting!)
  • iskwêhkân (IS-gwayh-gahn), literally ‘fake woman’, but without negative connotations.
  • napêhkân (NU-payh-gahn) literally ‘fake man’, but without negative connotations.

A number of people have said that it is their understanding there were no terms in Cree, that people were not labelled in such ways and despite there being pan-Indian notions of ‘special roles’ for those now called Two-Spirited, that may not have been the case in Cree communities.

Yet in these discussions, one belief is very clearly shared by most, which is that there was acceptance of fluid genders/sexual orientations/etc.

Love without colonial boundaries.

Reclaiming our traditions is more than learning our languages, but our languages do give us a ‘way in’ that absolutely should be explored.  Overcoming colonially imposed views of sex, sexuality, gender and identity is no small matter, particularly since indigenous peoples are still experiencing colonialism in a very real way.  We are not living in post-colonial times, no matter what Canadian politicians wish to claim.

Ideas about tradition-specific approaches to those now called Two-Spirit have been emerging for some time and are becoming the subjects of indigenous scholarship.  What inspires me about this scholarship is the empowering fact that our traditional approaches to gender, sexuality and spirituality are not rooted in the very recently formed western liberal notions of ‘equality’.  We do not need to learn from settler cultures how to respect our women and our Two-Spirited relations…we already have those teachings.  Reclaiming them and redefining them for the 21st century is a difficult, but beautiful undertaking.

Crow Two-Spirits, 1928.

And perhaps the words we use in our own languages will be new, if they did not exist before.  Perhaps they will be new because we have lost the words.  Perhaps we never lost them.  Perhaps they are merely waiting for us to use them again, properly.  Hopefully soon I will look at the Cree words that have been suggested, and settler connotations will no longer colour my view of these words.

This is not work non-natives can or should do for us.  If you know of resources and scholarship done by indigenous people on this subject, please feel free to share them.  If you know of words, or different definitions than those offered above, please feel free to dispute/suggest/discuss.

Many thanks.

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Categories: Cree, Culture, Decolonisation, First Nations, Métis, Pan-Indian

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30 Responses to Language, culture, and Two-Spirit identity.

  1. D'Arcy Rheault says:

    Great article. From what I have been taught some pre-contact Anishinaabe cultures make reference to different genders rather than sexual orientation. I know of at least 4 distinct genders for the Ojibwe (and probably in more Nations) man, woman, egwakwe & egwanini. So there is the potential of 16 kinds of relationships available to an individual. I think that to ‘interpret’ this using sexual orientation as the focus is more ‘intellectual colonialism’ in a sense. The genders are distinct and have nothing to do with sexual orientation. As such 2 genders can have children and 2 can’t. (see Will Roscoe, Changing Ones:Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America, Palgrave Macmillan: 2000)
    I don’t know the answer to this, but sometimes I wonder is the term ‘two-spirit’ and how it makes reference to sexual orientation isn’t just more appropriation, albeit very subtle appropriation. Megan Rohrer tells us:
    ““The two-spirit movement in the United States grew out of the Native American Gay and Lesbian movement, which held its first international gathering in Minneapolis in 1988…
    “The term is not intended to mark a new category of gender. Instead two-spirit is an indigenously defined pan-Native North American term that bridges Native concepts of gender diversity and sexualities with those of Western cultures.” (
    Isn’t it our responsibility to remember how gender was actually defined in each of the hundreds of distinct Indigenous Nation of Turtle island rather than continue perpetrating the settler culture’s imposition of meaning, value and hierarchy to concepts and words?

    miigwech for all your amazing work!

    • I agree with the need to reclaim our traditional meanings and I do think it becomes very difficult to do so when you come at it from English or another non-indigenous language. On the other hand, the cultural fluency required to understand the words as they are truly meant in an indigenous language is not necessarily going to be there, especially if we keep trying to teach indigenous languages via a western model of instruction.

      I have heard that some non-indigenous people have appropriated the term “Two-Spirit”, though native Two-Spirited people have been pretty vocal in how that is problematic. I think the ‘bridging’ aspect of the English term, Two-Spirit was a good start, a sort of rallying call that could be applied in a pan-Indian context. It is my personal opinion that going beyond that is what we can and should be focusing on now, delving back into those traditions, so that perhaps the next generation will not have to ‘translate’ from settler concepts. The umbrella term may still be fine, but rooting ourselves in specific traditional approaches to gender, sexuality, spirituality and so on is also an important task. IF that is seen as empowering.

      The notion of four genders is one that seems to come up a fair amount in various First Nations. There are a lot of different approaches to how people should think of gender…some transgendered people want to be able to think of gender as a fluid thing, others accept a gender binary, and find the idea of four genders unnecessary. I think that is why indigenous Two-Spirited people need a space to discuss these issues among themselves, because although there are commonalities that they share with non-indigenous transgendered people, there are also important differences that have been overshadowed because of colonialism.

  2. Knight says:

    Thanks for writing this. I definitely learned more than I knew about gender and language than I did before. 🙂

    I always get a bit wary reading articles on two-spirit people (history & language) from non-2spirits, because more than once I’ve seen conversations involving non-2spirit people discrediting the term, saying it had no basis in their nation/tribe, etc. And while I do understand that (and even accept it in some cases), it teeters on the edge for me of being… rude? I’m not sure the exact word to use. I guess all I can say is “I totally understand this term did not exist pre-colonization for us/you/them/etc., but we have the right to define ourselves and still be a part of the tribe/nation/etc.”

    I also kind of waver back and forth between adopting the term for myself or not. Especially because a lot of the terms IN indigenous languages really involve a lot of “man being woman” or “woman dressing like a man” when it seems to coercesively apply a gendered label *that I never was in the first place, at least consentingly*, nor am I actually trying to BE the other gender, at least most of the time. Sure I can go back and forth, but there isn’t a simple starting station and stopping station, you know? So I can’t easily say I’m 2spirit because there’s a lot of baggage and definition there and I’m not sure if that’s right for me to adopt that term if I’m not fully aware of the politics and history behind it.

    But um. Sorry for the long word ramble. 🙂 But I appreciate you writing this.

    • Here is why translations are problematic. “Dressing like a woman” or “dressing like a man” has a certain connotation (negative) in settler cultures, so when this is offered as the English translation of the Cree terms, it makes sense to be wary of the meanings. Which is why I think it is so important to engage in the process of decolonisation in order to reclaim the traditional views of these things. From what has been explained to me, these things were not seen negatively in Cree culture. I do not know enough of other Nation’s traditions to comment. The point is, when you try to translate, you import meanings from the culture whose language you are translating into. That is problematic.

      So in order to truly reclaim these terms, more digging has to be done into what they really mean. Then an indigenous person can make a truly informed choice to use the terms, or not. But I personally feel we should give our terms the benefit of the doubt.

      • sikak iskwew says:

        language, like culture, evolves over time. if it doesn’t then it is a dead language. to me the protestations are somewhat comical given that these entire conversations are taking place in the colonizer’s language, which is a language of possession, conquest, entitlement, disparagement…etc. the conversation may need to be refocused on the way that ndgns people adopt a conceptual lexicon when they adopt a colonial language and work on decolonizing the colonizers language at the same time as decolonizing our own interpretations of our own languages. of course the interpretations are off…when a language has no comparable concept, then interpreters fill in the gap by making ad hoc translations. if ndgns people want to truly understand what it means to understand ndgns concepts they need to do two things: go back to the land, and learn the literal meanings of their languages, not the english translations as these will inevitably be corruptions. also, do not rely on one source. ive seen lots of people quoting alex wilson as the definitive authority on all things “two spirit”; shes not. she represents her own perspective and not the perspective of all cree people everywhere and not even the perspective of all cree people from her community. indigenous societies were fluid where social relations and identity are concerned, not dogmatic and not definitive. the “cree nation” is huge and diverse with differences in customs and language across vast reaches of geography…no one person can claim to speak for all cree and hope to be taken seriously. keith goulet (a swampy cree from northern saskatchewan) tells us that in indigenous frames sovereignty is located in the physical space of individuals, that is, it is located in our bodies–no one “owns” us, we “own” ourselves…as such, we decide how we are and our societies, while concerned with ritual, were not automatic rigid stratified written in stone societies.

  3. Krysta says:

    Just wanted to say thanks for the mention from the Native Youth Sexual Health Network – we’re very proud of the “Healthy Sexuality and Fighting Homophobia and Transphobia: Native Youth Photography Project” and glad its being shared!

    • It is a very beautiful series, and I saw it being passed around on tumblr a while back. I think the work the Native Youth Sexual Health Network does is pretty amazing, and is sorely needed, so ay-ay mistahi!

  4. Cynthia Preston says:

    Interesting and complex subjects. What however is the over arching goal? To be a separate and cohesive people/nation such as Quebec is within Canada? Or to be somewhen, many generations from now to be sifted, and sorted through struggle, and effort, something totally different from either indigenous, ‘colonial’, mosaic in motion, of today’s Canada?
    Its the nature of humans Caucasian, and Indigenous, African, Asian, etc to “co-opt” good ideas, words, rituals, and traditions. This “co-opting” isn’t a negative thing! It is as the old English saying goes “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery” If the phrase ‘Two Spirits” is adopted through out northamerican society both native and non native and causes a common understanding of the breadth of human sexuality, and relationship is this a bad thing? or is it a structuaral piece in the building of a common relationship? Should native society be reactionary? or considered, and thoughtful in response?

    • Ah yes the old, “why can’t we get along” and “we’re all equal” approach…which unfortunately ignores the history of colonisation and continuing systemic oppression of indigenous peoples. Even when that is not the intention.

      What is the overarching goal? To not be treated like less than human, or like second class citizens in our own land. Can that happen if we all just pretend that bygones are bygones, without those in power actually doing any decolonisation of their own? Can that be done when those in power pretend that ‘co-opting’ or engaging in ‘flattering immitation’ is not a continuation of the colonisation process, the theft and erasure of distinct cultures? I don’t believe so, no.

      I mentioned the need for intersectionality. This is where we deal with issues such as gender discrimination, homophobia, transphobia and so on as it relates to us as indigenous peoples who have also undergone and continue to undergo oppression based on the fact we are indigenous. It is not possible for us to sort these things apart and deal with them separately, but we are often asked to by well meaning settler activists who don’t battle with issues of skin colour or culture, because their skin colour and culture are part of the the mainstream. The term Two-Spirit is one way in which we can make it clear to others and to ourselves that this intersectionality is important and informing our work.

      I also mentioned the need for an internal dialogue. The ‘generalisation of culture’ is damaging to us, particularly when so many of our cultural ways of expression have been actively persecuted and denied to us for generations. Reclaiming our cultural roots cannot happen, I’m afraid, when well meaning settlers want to ‘come along for the ride’ so we can all be ‘human together’.

      When we are more firmly rooted in our traditional beliefs about gender and sexuality and so forth, THEN I think we will be able to articulate and share some of these approaches with others who can take them, or reject them as they wish. But we have a lot to work through before that can happen.

  5. Jadey says:

    This is really interesting, especially as the rough English equivalent of “trans” is also both a word and a concept in flux for many. In my own experience, it is very tempting to approach language with a “just tell me the right word and I will use it!” mindset, and in bad cases this is followed up by frustration and anger when someone learns that there isn’t always one right word. Even around words like, “gay”, “homosexual” and “queer” there is not as much clear definition as many assume! Looking across languages is a really good way to highlight this lack of clarity and the need to accept things which are not cut-and-dried.

  6. Ron says:

    Hi. Sorry I was one of your new fans that were lost in the switch to your own website here a cpl months back. However, this article is an important issue in all of Anishinabe Country. I believe the term 2-spirited originally came from a Najavo worldview but I cannot pin the artist/philospher at this moment. In my understanding in my own culture of the Ojibway people, the term 2-spirited is used socially but it is not sanctioned in spiritual ceremony. The Ojibway belief is that we all have 1 spirit and there isn’t 2 spirits in our bodies so-to-speak when we are discussing sexualities of any particular person. I know, what you have mentioned in your article is very accurate about our genders being a fluid concept one that takes on different understandings throughout ones lifetime and that is the way I believe, our people viewed this a long time ago. Instead of the exclusive nature of Eurocentric ideals surrounding sexuality, I believe our people had and still have a way of adapting, or plain acceptance of individuals for what they were/are regardless of their sexual preferences. In our teachings the essence of our way of life, is ‘respect’ for all living things, as Creator does not make mistakes. So in this way, people who are bisexual, homosexual, transexual, heterosexual etc. have a purpose and are to be included in a way that is respectful and inclusive. This is the way we are to deal with our differences; through acceptance.
    Anyway, Meegwech for your article. I will be writing my own thesis soon about language and the movements that are created to fight intellectual oppression. So, I like it when you chat about language and the various meanings words take on in different languages.

    Anyway I look forward to your next entry. Bye for now.

    Garden River First Nation

  7. In the southern Manitoba region, an Ojibwe language specialist, advised us that Agokwe (Ojibwe) could be interpreted to mean “Hidden Woman”. I’ve seen references to the Cree word, ayahkwêw (U-yuh-gwayo), a man dressed/living/accepted as a woman – however I have not heard/seen a complete interpretation/translation from Cree language expert. I did find an early historical reference to a Cree trans-woman in northern Manitoba, who was an assistant to a medicine-man. Her Cree name was in the document which was in the Canadiana section at the Millenum Library. Have not been able to locate it again (that was twenty years ago).

    • Tan’si! I did read somewhere that the creation of the term “Two-Spirit” has been attributed to you, but I didn’t want to say that as I was not sure.

      Since I published this, I’ve had a few people say that there were no real terms for these concepts in Cree, although others do think they heard various terms before. So there is a fair amount of controversy about it. However, a few people also said that even if there were no terms, maybe there should be.

    • sikak iskwew says:

      ive heard that the term, ayahkwêw, comes from iyehkwiw which has been translated variously to mean “androgynous” or “sexless” (the english with their distorted lens), no doubt misinterpretations. i have also heard the term ayekkewe which sounds like a dialectical version of iyehkwiw….ive also heard that ayekkewe is describing male-bodied “two spirits” while ayahkwêw actually describes female bodied “two spirits”. but cree as i posted above is incredibly diverse culturally and linguistically, even in manitoba between the north and the south there are differences.

  8. Co-Chair says:

    we cross posted this on our website (the Los Angeles County HIV Drug & Alcohol Task Force) in one of our forums. I hope that’s ok.

  9. Cassandra says:

    So two-spirit identity applies to those indigenous people who have non-hetero sexualities as well? I always thought that it applied to only trans individuals.

    • It has become a fairly wide term for some, almost like ‘indigenous queer’. Others use it more narrowly, but there doesn’t appear to be a strong collective feeling for one over the other.

  10. Marta says:

    I found your article very interesting. I have a good friend who is Cree and he and I have debated the Two Spirit concept frequently. He says there was no such thing as homosexuality in Cree culture, that it is a White thing. I tell him he is in denial and HIS thinking badly about it is a White thing. I know very little about Cree culture as he doesn’t say too much and I don’t press. Please know that he is very proud of being Cree. I would love to learn more when he is ready to share. I have read that other Native American cultures, ie Lakota and Dineh, were traditionally tolerant and accepting of Two Spirit peoples. I feel that probably First Nations peoples also were that way too. Thank you for sharing your article.

    • sikak iskwew says:

      ive been told that there actually WAS no homosexuality because that term means something entirely different than the indigenous concept that the english term “two spirit” was trying to indicate—in indigenous cosmology and ways of describing different genders, “homosexuality” is a meaningless term. its like there are no indigenous lesbians because “lesbian” is a culturally specific word that references sappho, the island of lesbos, and european history, specifically queer european history. if i use an indigenous frame of reference to describe myself then if i were to be physically with a female-bodied person, i still would neither be a “homosexual” nor a “lesbian” because what i am has no western corollary (except possibly trans-). perhaps your friend has a similar frame of reference and just hasnt articulated it?

      • sikak iskwew says:

        and even more specifically greek european history…..

      • Wesley Thomas says:

        It is a blessing to see, read and learn various Indigenous Nations’ perspective on gender, etc. We have to remember, constantly, that the terms lesbian and gay are Western terms which derives from their (European) sex markers, not genders. Indigenous terms are primarily based on gender terms and not necessarily sex (biological) terms.
        We all have to re-frame, re-think, and return to our Indigenous minds and begin anew in our own Indigenous terms of who we are Begin de-colonizing for the sake of our children to save what are left of ourselves. Wesley Thomas, Dine’

  11. sikak iskwew says:

    “What inspires me about this scholarship is the empowering fact that our traditional approaches to gender, sexuality and spirituality are not rooted in the very recently formed western liberal notions of ‘equality’. We do not need to learn from settler cultures how to respect our women and our Two-Spirited relations…we already have those teachings. Reclaiming them and redefining them for the 21st century is a difficult, but beautiful undertaking.”

    ive said it before and i will say it again: westerners, millennia ago, lost their capacity to truly embody notions of freedom, equality, respect when they abandoned willingly or were forced to abandon their indigenous roots. our societies already had these notions and practiced them in pure form, hence the absence of concepts like “total war”, “absolute fealty”, and frames premised on total hierarchical oppression. this is why i reject labels like “feminism”…what ndgns people need is a reclamation of traditional social relations as a guiding philosophy. feminism is a westerner stepping stone that had to be created before the patriarchy could understand (somewhat incompletely, as the world still proves) that women were even human…theyve been that disconnected from their own indigenous roots. feminism is the white woman’s attempt at decolonizing her own men….just as reclamation of traditional values is ndgns womens way.

    • sikak iskwew says:

      fortunately for ndgns people now, the incipient western patriarchal architecture only superficially overlays our social relations….where i am, cree women are pretty much the heads of the households. strong women who cannot help but be so. and cree men still pretty much respect that….hopefully, the residential school elders will not pass too much of their colonized teachings to the younger generation because i see them repeating western style notions of appropriate (ie gendered) behavior for women, like the skirt dress code. one elder even said that creator will not recognize the women if they do not wear skirts…..the creator i was taught about doesnt care for such superficial things; we are spirits in human form, our bodies are temporary. it is not our style of clothing that creator uses to recognize us…it is our strength & tone of spirit that is our identifying quality.

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  15. Michael Parsons says:

    the teaching I have received is the teaching of the 9 genders of which two spirits is one I have some concerns about sharing them in this form because they were given me by the ancestors. I hear you talking about old and new and people saying they did not exist and who knows I certainly do not. What I do know is that these are traditional terms and traditions are fluid not stagnant so we can not box ourselves into colonial thinking and two spirits has nothing to do with sexual orientation it is a gender term strait people can live with 2 spirits and non strictly heterosexual people may not be living with 2 spirits. I understand the term berdash and had a cree elder adopt me as his son and he accepted 2 spirits and we has a special place in the family because we were and I had a special role around his live when he lived because I am two spirited but not all are truly traditional because the legacy of residential schools does still have a big impact on our traditions I think we need to look to the ancestors for the answers to these questions and not look through the history of our traditions because our traditions are not stagnant they are fluid

  16. Bruce says:

    Michael Parson’s comment speaks with way more authority than mine will, but here goes. As a French Indian (Red River Metis Nation) person, not two spirited, I too am interested in the language/word origins, especially in a post-colonial / neo-colonial era in which we live. I’m also interested in this subject because of my work with Indigenous youth as I am always trying to better understand the challenges young people face today.

    Seems to me that even though the English language is noted for its precise ability to label everything and anything, it does terribly at describing relationships between or among things. And, as I recall from what elders and other wise ones have reminded me, it’s not who you are (identity politics) but, as Mr. Parsons notes in his post, the role you play on behalf of the community that really matters: every person’s gifts have a place and a function for the community. Perhaps this is why there are no or few labels for the contemporary concept of gender identity in an Indigenous context. My thoughts. Enjoyed your scholarship on this topic. Tawnshe, Marsee

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