Article: Two-Spirit People, Body Sovereignty, and Gender Self-Determination

As Cree people we understand that the nature of the cosmos is to be in balance and that when balance is disturbed, it must and will return. 

Restoring balance

Two-spirit identity is one way in which balance is being restored to our communities. Throughout the colonial history of the Americas, aggressive assimilation policies have attempted to displace our own understandings, practices and teachings around sexuality, gender and positive relationships and replace them with those of Judeo Christianity. To recognize ourselves as two-spirit is to declare our connection to the traditions of our own people.  

As a self-identifier, two-spirit acknowledges and affirms our identity as Indigenous peoples, our connection to the land, and values in our ancient cultures that recognize and accept gender and sexual diversity. 

The recognition and acceptance of gender and sexual diversity is reflected in our languages, spirituality and cultures. Our Cree dialect does not include gender-distinct pronouns. Rather, our language is ‘gendered’ on the basis of whether or not something is animate (that is, whether or not it has a spiritual purpose and energy). 

Cultural disruption and “Skirt Shaming”

Today some of our Elders and spiritual teachers have adopted and introduced understandings and practices and understandings that were not necessarily part of their own cultures prior to colonization and the imposition of Christianity. For example, a recent celebration in a community included a sweat lodge ceremony. When two-spirit and other participants arrived to take part in the ceremony, the person leading the ceremony demanded that some in the group change their clothing to conform with what he perceived their gender to be and added the warning that if he suspected that they had dressed inappropriate to their perceived gender, they would be required to prove their gender identity to him. In the face of this direct assault on their body sovereignty and gender self-determination, some people left the ceremony..  The role of Elders in our communities includes the sharing traditional teachings with youth that will help them understand their own experiences, including their expressions of gender identity and sexuality. However, in most of our Indigenous cultures where gender and sexual diversity were once accepted and valued, our traditional teachings, ways of being, spirituality, and languages were disrupted and displaced through the processes of colonization, Christianization and assimilation. The result (as the incident described above demonstrates) is that some of our own present-day cultural teachings and practices extend the continuum of violence that two-spirit people have been subject to since colonization began. “Skirt-shaming”, excluding, policing or shaming trans, two-spirit people and women because they are not wearing long dresses in ceremonial settings, is increasingly common and is a continuation of the continuum of violence.  

Two-spirit people are frequently subject to interconnected homophobia, transphobia and misogyny, and in the larger society they are additionally subject to structural and individual racism and classism. This has had devastating impacts on the two-spirit community. The suicide rate for LGBTQ Indigenous youth is ten times higher than that of any other group. Thirty-nine percent of two-spirit women and 21% of two-spirit men have attempted suicide. In a recent study of transgendered and gender non-conforming Indigenous people, nearly one-quarter lived in extreme poverty, elevated rates of HIV were found, and more than half of respondents (56%) had attempted suicide .   It is imperative that Elders and others consult with or rely on Two-Spirit leaders for teachings and direction regarding gender and sexual diversity. 

Coming in

There is much work to be done, then, to undo the work that has been done upon us. When we call ourselves two-spirit people, we are proclaiming sovereignty over our bodies, gender expressions and sexualities. “Coming in” does not centre on the declaration of independence that characterizes ‘coming out’ in mainstream depictions of the lives of LGBTQI people. Rather, coming in is an act of returning, fully present in our selves, to resume our place as a valued part of our families, cultures, communities, and lands, in connection with all our relations. 

Indigenous sovereignty over our lands is inseparable from sovereignty over our bodies, sexuality and gender self-expression.

Dr. Alex Wilson (Opaskwayak Cree Nation) is an Associate Professor and the Academic Director of the Aboriginal Education Research Centre at the University of Saskatchewan www.twospiritmanitoba.ca

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Original post - Red Rising Magazine

Poem: Grieving Mother

I was the woman with a child born grieving,
I was the child feeling this grieving,
I was the child who grew into grieving-running,
I was the child who wounded self and others,
I was the child who was tumultuous,
I was the child who was labeled "at-risk,"
I was the woman with the child who said no to the "at-risk" label,

Fire and light have catapulted us across time,
In a celebration of beautiful refrains,
Sang near bright candles in red glass candle holders,
Red pebbles,
Red berries,
Red cloth,
Red birds,
Reborn,
Reborn,
Reborn,

This light,
The child has left the corridor.

Poem: Ajijaak Dodem Anokii

It is so precious,
These tears on my hands,
Covering my face,
This grieving is beautiful,
You see we had felt those knives turned inward,
On ourselves,
On our family,
When we could not speak,
When we could not feel,

These tears are precious,
Incredibly triumphant,
Reciprocity of sadness,
Melancholy,
Feeling emotions,
Generational emotions felt,
Mean that we can heal historical trauma,
Herstorical trauma,
Two-Spirit-denial-I-am-hiding-trauma,
Two-Spirit-the-majority-culture-makes-me-feel-shame-trauma,
No more,
Silent No More,

Tears on pillows,
Blankets,
Walls,
Wiped,
To heal,
Cleanse,
Rebooting the old ancient ways,

If these spirits towered over us,
What could we feel was that fist in the cement,
And drifting,
Woozy,
Pacing,
Drifting,

Static through our heads,
The cold metal desk,
Work places,
Public spaces,
Sweaty palms,
Nervousness streaked across tables,
Desks,

If the Grandfather listened,
And honored us,
And did not judge us,
Even though we judged ourselves,
For loving you,
For trying to help you,

If the Grandmother said,
I support you,
And took your hand,
As a gift unimaginable,

This is in fact dodem anokii,
You see,
Not social work,
Dodem anokii,

Ajijaak dodem,

Do you know what all of this means?

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Translations

Ajijaak - Crane
Anokii - Work
Dodem - Clan

Poem: Nokomis dash Mishomis

Grandpa (Mishomis) LaPointe and me - December 1983.

Grandpa (Mishomis) LaPointe and me - December 1983.

You see we have been striving for generations to feel ode,
Scoop down,
Kneel down,
Pick up,
And gather,
The teachings,

But this means in feeling ode we feel the hurt,
Magnified sorrow by oppressive forces,
Hands on the curb,
Pieces of the cement glued to our hands as we rise,
We must brush this off,
The train speeds by,
The street light flickers,
The curb is a metaphor for being sidelined,
Unseen,
Invisible,
We must continue on,
Only to end up laying on the floor for 14 hours,
Unable to move,
Our tears too much,
To breathe,
Yet to rise,
Rise,
Rise,
Recover,

Can you feel the heart of everything?
Do you remember the carpet?
The white walls?
The smell?
Rise,
Rise,
Recover,

There were times we couldn't breath,
The dominant culture decided our identity for us,
To withstand a lifetime of racism,
To stand up and rise,
To speak out against racism,
To speak for others who can't speak,
To speak for others who are afraid,
To speak for the ancestors who were silenced,
To speak for the ones who are on their way,

Zaagidewin,
Opening ode,

Gwekwaadeziwin,
With ourselves,

Aakidehewin,
To feel ode,

Mnaadendmowin,
For ourselves,

Dbaadendiziwin,
In the circle,

Debwewin,
Speak it from ode,

Nbwaakaawin,
Always in the circle,

Gently feet dance on the Earth,
Prayers for recovery,
Tears for recovery,
Hot summer sun,
Smiling,
Laughing,
This joy is ours,
We are strong,
We are strengthening who we are,

The bead work,
The laughter,
Water,
Prayers,
Cedar,

We feel your smiles,
We feel your gentleness,

Chi miigwech nokomis!
Chi miigwech mishomis!

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Translations

- Aakidehewin - Courage
- Chi miigwech - Many thanks
- Dash - And
- Dbaadendiziwin - Humility
- Debwewin - Truth
- Gwekwaadeziwin - Honesty
- Mishomis - Grandfather
- Mnaadendmowin - Respect
- Nbwaakaawin - Wisdom
- Nokomis - Grandmother
- Ode - Heart
- Zaagidewin - Love

Poem: A Two-Spirit Case Study

I put my stethoscope to the community,
I listened,
Most of the time quietly,
Or "underground,"

Right wing Christians,
Who are Native,
White tribal government structures,
Two-Spirits who are shamed,
This isn't traditional,

Still getting shunned,
I listen,

When children are neglected,
Ignored,
Abused,
Not fed breakfast by their Father's,
I listen,

The soul is wide open,
Listening,

The soul is black,
Tarnished,
Damaged,
Disjointed,

Scrambling across the territories to seek bits and pieces of healing,
To run into shards of glass of liquor bottles,
The addiction of a thirst unquenchable, 
A thirst to heal not understood by dominant culture influences and colonization,

Running into walls,
Abuse sprouts onto walls and window panes in the form of mold,
Mold toxicity damaging spirits,
This is a mold toxic house,
The house a metaphor for toxicity all around,
A mold toxic body,
A mold toxic soul,

Shards of broken glass shattered into souls,
Sharp edges,
It hurts,
This racism,
This internalized racism,
This sexism,
This internalized sexism,
This homophobia,
This internalized homophobia,

To seek but to stumble,
Imperfection as a survivor of genocide,
Swaying under the dim lights of this podunk-redneck-hick-NDN-rez-town,

What you seek is not out there,
The teachings are what you seek,
It is not a pedestal,
It is not a tribal government structure,
It is not patriarchy,
It is not abuse,

The soul listening can assembled the pieces,
In a de-insdustrialized way,
In a de-colonized way,
Yet no one cares to listen,
Still I listen,
Quietly,

A Two-Spirit observance and case study,
A community broken.