Healing Homophobia Through Native American Traditions

19 Nov

I need to thank my friends Mileka, Lori, and Deb for their enormous efforts in helping with the research for this article.  Prior to colonization, Native Americans across the country embraced Two Spirit people, or what we would refer to as people in the LGBT community.  The indigenous peoples of North America operated from the perspective: “We don’t throw our people away.” Unlike our divided nation today — which feels it is okay to discard people and marginalize certain populations — most Native tribes embraced all of their people and their differences.

Two-Spirt people were often revered because they contain both feminine and masculine qualities, thus allowing us to see the world with a uniquely balanced perspective.  Often times, Two-Spirt folk would be in charge of Naming Ceremonies for children.  Two-Spirit people were also revered as a type of shaman, and often used as “nannies” caring for children.

With the advent of colonization and interference from the Catholic Church, we saw misogyny and homophobia eat away at Native American traditions.  Sadly, many Native American tribes are struggling with homophobia and the suicide rates for Native teens who are two spirit.

The good news is that many tribes that are working hard to fight homophobia by embracing pre-colonization traditions.  In fact, the local NAYA center here in Portland is working hard to combat homophobia.  For example, when young people throw around the word “gay” as a pejorative, they are reminded that is not consistent with Traditional Native American values, which is quite wonderful as there is an increasing population of Native youth that are wanting to return to their traditions.

We can learn a great deal from our Native American brothers and sisters and their traditions.  Wouldn’t it be nice to work to stop misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and to stop marginalizing people who don’t fit into the neat little boxes we seem to want to assign to people?

6 Responses to “Healing Homophobia Through Native American Traditions”

  1. Christine Noble November 19, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    I always appreciate how much I can learn from you Michael. I knew about the Two Spirit traditions, I did not know that Native American communities had been struggling with homophobia since we pushed our traditions on them. It is nice to see them reclaiming their heritage in such a positive and loving way.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt November 19, 2012 at 8:54 am #

      I love the reframing of language, rather than using shame. It is so easy just to say, “that is not consistent with Native values.” What is sad is to see the ever present damage of colonization and the Catholic Church.

      • Tom McCollin November 19, 2012 at 8:59 am #

        People are encouraged to be themselves….and when we do just that, we are berated and mocked for being different.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt November 19, 2012 at 9:07 am #

        It certainly gives one an even greater appreciation for Native American traditions.

  2. prideinmadness November 20, 2012 at 4:33 am #

    Great post!!!!

    I took an “Aboriginal Approaches to Social Work” class in second year and it was amazing, the best class I’ve ever had! My professor was two-spirited. We’ve included two spirited in our ever expanding acronym (LGBTTIQ2A…if I remembered them all).

    Canada still has a way to go in appreciating our aboriginal peoples (as I’m sure the USA does). When you go way back in my family I have Metis in me which I think is amazing and makes me happy (Metis is the offpsring of French settlers and Native peoples).

    I actually had the honor of having aspects of Aboriginal culture at my graduation from social work! We came into the bagpipes and then 3 men started chanting and banging on drums! An elder welcomed us and all the speakers acknowledged we were on the land of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations. It was so beautiful I couldn’t even describe it!

    Well I rambled! Great post again!

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt November 20, 2012 at 6:17 am #

      Thank you for the great comment; it really added to the richness and texture of my article. I did not know you were Metis–how cool! Yes, both Canada and the US need to learn from our First Nations brothers and sisters.

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