Tribal Communities Need to Honor Two-Spirits

She leaned forward in her chair and said, “You know what I think of those people.  They are diseased like alcoholics.”  

I didn’t feel the need to educate this person because I was literally on cloud 9 the day this venomous hate was directed at me.  It was an unusual day for me as I had on some eyeliner and heels because normally I dress androgynous and without makeup.  Also I didn’t feel like mentioning that two of my cousins are lesbians (Two-Spirit) and I also identify as Two-Spirit.  Instead I just radiated love for myself and towards her hate.  After I left the colonial tribal government building where she worked I decided I would write her a letter.  I never sent the letter.  After talking to other LGBTQQ2S people and allies they asked me if it was really worth my time to counter that bigot?  No, I am not responsible to educate bigots.  Two-Spirits are never responsible to do this work.  Our daily existence is resistance and sometimes it’s enough to make it through the day.  A warrior must not waste an arrow.

Instead after this event I prayed for her to awaken to love within herself and her non-community.  I prayed that maybe one her grandchildren or relatives comes out of the closet.  I didn’t internalize the venom but instead I redirected the hate.  This particularly non-community is not my own.  I have lived within this non-community for 5 years.  I am no longer involved in this non-community.  I mention non-community because it is not a community.  If it was a community this kind of hate would not occur and the epidemic of rampant addictions on this reservation would be addressed.  As one non-community member said to me in passing in a grocery store, “this is a sick community.”  This place has proved itself. 

This wasn’t the only situation where I experienced Two-Spirit hate and there were a few others.  “Traditional healers,” lose their total credibility when they bully and discriminate.  When sobriety is laughed at to your face you know this is a sick person.  They are not in fact a “healer,” but a heteropatriarchal ring-wing redneck Christian.  They are the same illness that has colonized and abused our non-communities.  However with this situation I experienced personal reconciliation when the individual saw me dancing as an old time jingle dress dancer at a traditional powwow.  At the end of powwow’s we have a giveaway and shake everyone’s hand inside the circle.  He came around and shook my hand.  As I would do with any enemy I will look you in the eye.  If you can’t do this then it proves cowardice.  He looked me in the eye but there was a sense that he could see me.  I was not someone to be made fun of, bullied, ridiculed, and ostracized.  At that point he knew what my medicine was and that I am for real in how I walk on this Earth.  Case closed.

Western Michigan is a strange place.  It is full of right wing Christian conservatism in a weird way.  Racism, sexism, homophobia, and creepy White supremacy is buried under the “West Michigan nice,” façade but in reality the whole west side is seething with hate.  West Michigan prides itself on not being Detroit, or up until recently Flint, and they don’t like unions.  Anishinaabe who have directed Two-Spirit hate towards me seem to be worse than non-Natives.  I’ve had conversations with some non-Native conservatives who have sons or daughters who are LGBTQQIAA.  Really amazing conversations to take place.  My politics are such that I don’t necessarily identify with majority culture liberalism because it is dangerous to be existing on fluff, vacuousness, and hippie-dippie “one love” philosophy while ignoring actual oppression.  However I identify as a Two-Spirit Matriarch on the strong foundation of Indigenous survivance and resistance.  I’m not down with heteropatriarchal colonized mindsets and colonized lifeways that pervade our Anishinaabe people.  I’ve found that sometimes I have more in common with a conservative person than a liberal such as sobriety.  This doesn’t make me conservative.  I believe the political spectrum is being challenged and therefore you never know who you will strike up and conversation and what you will have in common. 

Western Michigan ends where Manistee County begins.  Manistee County is not as conservative as Ottawa County.  In fact, much of what is considered Western Michigan makes Manistee County look liberal.  Manistee is solidly union democratic with the city of Manistee having unions and factories.  Many Anishinaabe residing in these areas have been affected by Christianization but something is off.  I was raised liberal/social justice Catholic and Anishinaabe and we were always open to other beliefs, religions, traditions, and ways of being.  What takes place is Western Michigan feels like a poison to who people really are.  I am naming the toxicity.  I naming it because not many people name toxicity yet they exist in it and accept it as is.  I am naming it because it shows how deep colonization is rooted in Anishinaabe people in Western and Northwestern Michigan.  It fuels my life work but it is not mine nor is this energy me.  I am Kchiwiikwedong (Keweenaw Bay Indian Community), Bad River (LaPointe Band of Ojibway), Mooniingwanekaaning-minis (Madeline Island, Wisconsin), Ojibway/Métis, Indigenous Saami, and European My identity is not limited to the area in which I reside.  My identity is expansive like the night sky.  Therefore I use my knowledge and wisdom to decide which battles to take up.  My Two-Spirit identity is sacred to me and should be to every Two-Spirit. 

What does it mean to honor Two-Spirits? 

Two-Spirit is a pan-Indian definition that was adopted in 1990 at a national Two-Spirit gathering in the US.  In order to move forward you must research and find out the names and roles for Two-Spirits in your own language and tribal community or non-community.  Find out the ways in which Two-Spirits were honored and revered.  Create resources within your non-community or community such education and outreach activities.  Draft legislation that prevents Two-Spirit bullying, hate, or discrimination within the reservation boundaries.  Have a circle of elders and allies that will make supportive decisions if Two-Spirits are bullied or ostracized.  Do not assume that because someone is Two-Spirit that they are broken.  Two-Spirits have a vast array of gifts including: healing, mediation, orators, natural counselors (without degrees), medicine people, leaders, warriors, name givers, adoptive parents - "Aunties," storytellers, poets, and artists.  Often in our Anishinaabe non-communities the patriarchy controls who and what does healing out of the notion of “tradition."  We have made no space for Two-Spirits as healers.  We walk in both worlds, male, female, genderfluid, genderqueer, androgynous, non-binary, and more.  Two-Spirits have a vast array of gifts and have survived more trauma, oppression, alienation, and pain, than most people can comprehend.  Because of this we are able to help others recover, reclaim, and heal through the lens of anti-colonial and anti-oppression frameworks.

Two-Spirits were once honored and revered.  Let’s bring this back now.  We can’t delay as we are losing people every day through suicide, addictions, disease, cancer and other unfortunate health issues that plague our non-communities. 

“Two-spirit women must negotiate their triply oppressed status (Jacobs, Thomas, & Lang, 1997). Often, they confront stigma regarding their sexual orientation, not only from the wider society but also from other Natives, their families, and their tribal communities; racism from the wider society and from other sexual minorities; and sexism from both Native and LGBT communities. Facing multiple aspects of oppression, two-spirit individuals not surprisingly are at even greater risk for adverse health outcomes than other Natives (Balsam, Huang, Fieland, Simoni, & Walters, 2004; Walters, 1997; Walters, Simoni, & Horwath, 2001). Despite this increased risk, however, public health and psychological research largely has ignored two-spirit people. Thus, gathering data on two-spirits, including their experiences of abuse and violence and its effects, is an important area for research.” – Abuse, Mastery, and Health Among Lesbian, Bisexual, and Two-Spirit American Indian and Alaska Native Women

The Colonial Structure

Tribal government will not bring healing to our communities.  Tribal government models White colonial government structures that have historically oppressed our people.  We don’t walk hand in hand with White government structures so therefore why would solutions be found in colonial imposed Tribal government structures.  When non-communities engage in disenrollment, freezing enrollment, and deny identity based on a few percentages of “Indian blood,” we shouldn’t trust the structure in place.  If you are inside and benefiting then take a look at what you can do change this.  For example, my Aunt Carole LaPointe, is our Health Director for the Donald LaPointe Health and Education Center in the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.  Carole introduced legislation in 2014 and now we have a same-sex marriage law in our community.  I give extra props to Carole because she is on the inside and this is one way to make change within.  Follow her lead and bring about change even within the structure. 

Advice for Countering Hate

When venomous hate is directed at you please keep in mind that you have options.  Bullying, discrimination, or being ostracized is something that you don’t have to accept.  Additionally, it is not the responsibility of the Two-Spirit to educate the one who is discriminating you.  When you come face to face with bigotry like I did what usually lies underneath that persons façade is discomfort in themselves, unresolved hurt pain, trauma, and overall internalized oppression.  Then to keep in mind the grand scheme of things therefore you don’t have engage.  You can show how you feel by walking away.  I believe silence doesn’t necessarily mean complacency at this point but for the individual it means peace of mind and safety.  If you do make the decision to counter the hate be prepared for violence to be directed at you.  Have pepper spray on hand to counter physical violence if necessary.  If it does become physical then make sure to you know self-defense techniques.  If you feel the police will support you call them.  There is now more diversity and LGBTQ2S training in many communities around the US.  However given the elevated level of police brutality towards People of Color, Native people, and Two-Spirits you may want to have another plan in mind.  Keep yourself safe.  This safety may be a resource that you normally wouldn’t consider such as a local LGBTQ group or progressive Christian ally.  Keep the door open but protect yourself. 

Love Yourself

I’m not down with cliché feel good sayings because people don’t always feel good.  Especially oppressed people who have been alienated and ostracized.  The message I offer is to love yourself in a radical sense.  If you live in a non-community that is full of lateral violence and elevated levels of gossip then you must grow love within yourself.  You may be totally and completely alone without any support.  This is a vulnerable place to be in but tribal communities aren’t necessarily looking out for vulnerable community members.  Power and privilege (male privilege, Christian privilege, nepotism – same families “running the band”) can and do operate in tribal communities.  Patriarchy wreaks havoc on government structures, ceremonies, family structures, suppresses women’s and Two-Spirits voices.  This is not necessarily the fault of the non-community but the fault of colonization, Christianization, and patriarchy.  We don’t uplift and support the marginalized.  Many tribal non-communities are under the strict federal oversight of the colonial government structure.  Grant funds get approved by federally granting agencies like SAMSHA.  Therefore, tribal communities’ hands are tied.  Grassroots and actual community based initiatives fail and therefore Two-Spirits struggle.  You can’t change the whole structure and you are not responsible to do so.  You must grow love within yourself and nurture your own soul in a radical sense.  This may come off as cold or closed to others.  It is self-preservation in the era of extreme alienation in a sick and unhealthy world. 

Other ways to love yourself include: maintaining a strong connection with the ancestors, finding what spiritual or non-spiritual path works for you (give yourself voice and power), self-care rituals, purchasing flowers or a plant for yourself, talking with an elder you trust regularly, mentoring and supporting a Two-Spirit youth, spending time on the land, eating the healthiest possible foods (given poverty, low-income limitations), and create some support even if it is just one person. 

“Indigenous women and two-spirited people must bear a heavy burden, working to re-establish and revitalize Indigenous socio-political orders, exercise sovereignty, and live resurgence: indeed it can be very dangerous and draining work. It should not be required at all. We should not have to work so hard to overcome barriers imposed by people who were supposed to share these lands with us, as guests and eventually as kin. Nonetheless, to exist as an Indigenous woman or two-spirited person is an inherently political act. Simply resisting our erasure is part of our work.”- Indigenous Women and Two-Spirit People: Our Work is Decolonization, by Chelsea Vowel

Resources

Abuse, Mastery, and Health Among Lesbian, Bisexual, and Two-Spirit American Indian and Alaska Native Women

Indigenous Women and Two-Spirit People: Our Work is Decolonization

KBIC legalizes tribally sanctioned same-sex marriage

Two-Spirit People, Body Sovereignty and Gender Self Determination

Walking in Two Worlds: Understanding the Two-Spirit and LGBTQ Community