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: Ode to Community Workers Oppressed by the Oppressed

We lost our sister in the fight,
She was silenced when she spoke out against injustice,
Pushed aside and denied traditional leadership roles,
A heart without a home,

We lost our brother in the fight,
No one knew he was in the dark corner of generational trauma,
Name badge for work torn and shirt on the floor,
It is heavy and that stench,

We lost our Two-Spirit brother/sister or sister/brother in the fight,
Cast aside,
Gifts ignored,
These assumptions alienate,
Instead of gifts being acknowledged these individuals are misunderstood,

Community workers walking up and down Woodward Avenue asking for coins,
This is all the majority culture will give them is a few coins,

Community workers listening to those in recovery,
Helping to choose another way,
Who just do the work without little recognition,
Because we keep meeting those who need us at the table,
Because "environmental justice" includes recovery of the soul,

Community work is not accumulating "followers,"
Feeding your ego because so called "fame" is more important than the gripping statistics that we can't seem to break,
To look at the underbelly of "community" or lack thereof requires looking inside your own soul,
When right now a Native youth in Nunavut is on the verge of suicide because they are caught between worlds where there are no resources for them,
Community work is honoring the work of of those who broke down the walls to help that youth live,
Self promotion and narcissism didn't help that youth but maybe one who lived to tell,

Community workers walk miles to reach a community member,
In the way up north parts of Anishinaabe Aki,
They are carrying prayers and dreams,
They are carrying messages and medicines,

Community workers have scars from this work,
Community workers have called crisis lines dozens of times,
Community workers have sat on street corners with brown paper bags folded and torn,
Community workers made decisions to survive and so they rise,
Community workers lived to tell these stories in poetry,
Community workers survival is resistance in the persistence of a racist culture,

Reworking is decolonization not in an industrialized sense,
Reworking is remembering and allowing blood memory to percolate,
Reworking is honoring the cast-away and ostracized,
In order to do the work while understanding the multitude of layers of generational trauma,
The trauma still continues from the oppressed to the oppressed,
We can no longer just name it but work on it,

If you say you are giving voice to the voiceless,
Then why ignore the injustice committed by our own people to our own people?
There comes a time when labeling things as "lateral violence" must come to an end,
It is fear that the voice of those oppressed by the oppressed will break down patriarchal control,
Will break down the disgusting and intoxicating infusion of Christianization,
We don't believe it for a minute that these harsh gender roles are traditional,
Or that "leadership" represents the "community,"

When are we going to choose to return to the circle?

The Manoomin Harvest as a Matriarchal Operation

Manoominike Giizis - The Good Berry/Wild Rice Making Moon

The proof is in the ancestors.  The proof is on the land.  The proof is on the water.  The proof is in the stories.  In Anishinaabe Aki we have a lot of work to do in terms of decolonization.  We have work to do in terms of decolonizing Christian and majority culture imposed gender roles.  Men, women, and Two-Spirits can internalize what is not traditional.  You can be patriarchal if you are man, woman, or even Two-Spirit.  In the Native American community we say that men can only do certain things and woman can do only certain thingssuch wear skirts at ceremonies.  Men also traditionally wore some kind of skirt so it is important to challenge these Christian and majority culture imposed notions of what is deemed traditional.  In our everyday lives we are always faced with a man/woman dichotomy and we never include Two-Spirited people who may be identifying as Two-Spirit based on their sexual orientation alone, gender identity alone, or sexual orientation and gender identity in combination.  There is a whole spectrum of identities that our communities had.  I can only speak for the Ojibway as this is my culture and heritage.  Two-Spirit identity varies from tribe to tribe across Turtle Island.

We need to check who is doing what and who is oppressing another in the process.  A patriarchal woman can oppress a matriarchal woman.  A patriarchal Two-Spirited person can oppress a matriarchal Two-Spirit.  A patriarchal man can think he is doing decolonization work and "doing good work," for "his" community when he leads the wild rice harvest.  There is nothing good about claiming and sharing knowledge to a process that has been matriarchal for a very long time.

I haven't come across many people who are willing do to the very difficult work of decolonizing gender roles.  I am probably one of the very very few that has made a commitment to this work.  Instead men benefit from male privilege when they follow and implement the majority culture imposed man/woman dichotomy.  Patriarchal women will benefit from this by "standing by their man."  These types of gender roles can play out in Two-Spirit relationships as well.  Then as we move from our personal lives to community (or non-community) lives and this plays out in everyday interactions from ceremonies, community meetings, talking circles, and our already patriarchal tribal government structures.

This time of year across Anishinaabe Aki many Anishinaabe will be gearing up for harvesting the good berry or what is known as wild rice.  The harvest will have a lot of patriarchy leading knowledge, teachings, and sharing stories that erase women and matriarchal traditions.  I know that my matriarchal ancestors whether male identified, female identified, or Two-Spirited of various identities held down the traditions of matriarchal leadership in an old time and traditional sense as they participated in the harvest. 

Photo: An amazing book by Brenda J. Child.  A must read!

"The wild rice harvest was the most visible expression of women's autonomy in Ojibwe society.  Binding rice was an important economic activity for female workers, who within their communities expressed prior claims to rice and a legal right to use wild rice beds in rivers and lakes through this practice.  Ojibwe ideas about property were not invested in patriarchy, as in European legal traditions.  Therefore, when early travelers and settlers observed Indigenous women working, it would have involved a paradigm shift for them to appreciate that for the Ojibwe, water was a gendered space where women's ceremonial responsibility for water derives from these related legal traditions and economic practices." - p. 25

 "Collectives of women controlled the entire social organization of the harvest, deciding on the rules and locations of campsites.  Harvesting wild rice was labor-intensive and involved many stages of cooperation." - p. 25-26

"One September in the ate nineteenth century, Joseph Gilfillan, an Episcopal missionary in Minnesota, observed an estimated six hundred Ojibwe women gathered for harvest at White Earth but no men." - p. 101

"Nearly all photographs and documents about Ojibwe wild-ricing before the publication of the WPA guide and the federal work camps of the same era represent a female harvest.  Some years before. the Minnesota ethnologist Frances Densmore had noted straightforwardly that "rice was harvested by women." - p. 102

Photo: Manoomin in August 2015.

Article: KBIC legalizes tribally sanctioned same-sex marriage

** MY TRIBE RECENTLY LEGALIZED SAME-SEX MARRIAGE! **

BARAGA - The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community legalized tribally sanctioned same-sex marriages Saturday, when it passed the third reading of amendments to its marriage ordinance. The amendments passed by a narrow 5-4 vote, with one abstention.

The meeting wasn't heavily attended, but the vote was met with a smattering of applause. Tribal voters had given their support to same-sex marriage legislation in a nonbinding referendum in December, and Carole LaPointe, a former council member who proposed the referendum last year, said she was happy to see the result.

"Love should have no barriers," LaPointe said. "If a woman loves a woman or a man loves a man, it shouldn't matter. It's no different for a woman and a man.


Nikki, left, and Audrey Reenders-Arens plan to wed under the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community’s newly-amended marriage ordinance, which allows for same-sex marriage. (Courtesy Nikki Reenders-Arens)

"Many same-sex couples have children, and they're raised just the same."

LaPointe's daughter Bridget LaPointe and her partner Mariah Dunham, a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, said in December they hoped to marry if the legislation was successful.

"I think it's the right direction," agreed KBIC member Nikki Reenders-Arens in a later interview, adding she and her partner Audrey Reenders-Arens had already talked about marriage and planned to apply for a license soon. In December, she explained that despite already being joined in a civil union in IllinoiAudrey would have no legal right to their son, which Nikki had given birth to, if something was to happen to her.

"It's important to the future," she said. "It protects our son, and we're finally being seen as equal."

The extent to which the state of Michigan will recognize that equality will likely depend on a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Currently, Michigan does not recognize same-sex marriages regardless of origin, but that's being challenged on the basis of the Constitution's equal protection clause. A ruling on the case is expected this summer.

At the federal level, eligibility for spousal social security benefits depends on where an individual or couple resides. Tribally-married same-sex couples are eligible if they live on the reservation, but not if they live in a jurisdiction - for now the rest of Michigan - where same-sex marriage isn't recognized.

The legislation was accomplished with minimal changes to the existing ordinance, which allows for the marriage of any Native American - not just KBIC members - to whomever they choose. The most significant amendments were changing references to marrying as "between a man and a women" to gender-neutral references to consenting adults.

Tribal council President Warren "Chris" Swartz, who spoke of the amendments as "two-spirit marriage" legislation, referring to the traditional Native conception of people with non-traditional sexual orientations, said the amendments would become law as soon as he could sign them Monday or Tuesday. Depending on administrative procedures, couples could begin applying for marriage licenses at the tribal courthouse by the end of the week.

Susan LaFernier, one of the council members who voted against the amendments, said she wasn't necessarily against same-sex marriage, but "thought it was such a controversial issue that we should have taken more time," and been more careful in the wording of amendments.

LaFernier said the tribe should also have taken the opportunity while making amendments to increase the legal age for marriage, and to change some of the wording on adoptions. Currently, the marriage ordinance allows for minors as young as 16 years old to marry if they had a guardian's approval. Council member Eddy Edwards voted for the amendments with no apparent reservations.

"This acknowledges that people can love each other, whoever they may be," he said. "We need all the love we can have in this world."

Original article -- KBIC legalizes tribally sanctioned same-sex marriage

Poem: I am the Un-Feeling Man

I am the manufactured heart unfeeling man,
Let me be the un-feeling man,

In brown boots,
With hairy legs,
With a mustache,

My heart is closed accordingly,
Un-tender,
Un-dainty,
Your judging it,
Saying I need to open it,
Feel it,
Open up to this idea of "romantic love,"
What about platonic love?
Aromantic love?

"Sweetness" sidetracked,
I've got everything together,
Everything is in perfect order,
Do not move that plate or napkin out of place,
As a woman should,
Have everything in order,
If not then discard me,
Discard my heart,
Discard my belongings,

I am the un-feeling man,
Running fingers over my mustache,
Let me not feel,
My emotions,
Or heart.