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?