Posted - 10/02/2008 : 12:17:42 AM
December 17, 2007
By Russel A. Daniels
SEELEY LAKE, Mont.—Dressed in traditional dance regalia and rainbows of colored jewelry, three women sit around a picnic table touching up each other's makeup. They wear beaded head crowns, placed proudly and designed with geometric shapes and roses.
Upon closer inspection, two of these women appear to have five o'clock
shadow and deep voices. They are American Indian Two Spirit men. They have come, along with about 80 others, to witness a friend's traditional Two Spirit wedding.
"For me, it was both an honor and important symbol for us to be married in an open Two Spirit way as well as in the Native American tradition," said Mark Vontillius, an adopted Blackfeet living in Denver and the groom in the wedding.
Who are Two Spirit? Two Spirit is a contemporary name given to gay,
lesbian, bisexual and transgender American Indians and refers to the
holistic relationship of both genders in one individual. Worldwide,
indigenous tribes have celebrated Two Spirit people; they often held
important decision-making positions and were sought out for spiritual
"Two Spirit for me is the man and woman [in one body] together," said
Antonio Ramirez, an Aztec living in Wichita and a Two-Spirit man who came
to support his friends in the wedding.
Two Spirits' nondefined gender roles conflicted with the Christian ideology
of the first European settlers and, because of assimilation, Two Spirit
people became repressed and virtually forgotten. For the past 20 years,
there has been a resurgence. Two Spirit societies have been formed in
Denver, Tulsa, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Northeast and Northwest, and
"[F]or us as Two Spirited people, we need to learn our roles, instill
ourselves with power and medicine to take the message of our roles to our
Native people," said John Hawk Co-Cke, an Osage and an activist from the
Tulsa Two Spirits Society. "We are going back and telling our people that
this is our role, this is our place."
Co-Cke has also traveled here to celebrate his friends' wedding and to
inform other Two Spirit people about their roles and history. He helps to organize and speaks at Two Spirit retreats. In his presentations, he discusses how a homosexual lifestyle can be destructive when repressed and says that it can be more devastating for Native Americans. He advocates healing by embracing their Two Spirit roles.
Co-Cke said Native American elders have told him that Native people now are mending the sacred hoop, the health of all tribes, and that the last part of the hoop are the Two Spirit people.
Russel A. Daniels, Ho-Chunk and Navajo, is majoring in photojournalism at the University of Montana in Missoula. He is a graduate of the Freedom Forum's American Indian Journalism Institute and has had photo internships at the St. Cloud (Minn.) Times and the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“I have not much to tell you except to help understand this earth on which you live. If a man is to succeed in the hunt or the warpath, he must not be governed by his inclination, but by understanding the ways of animals and of his natural surroundings, gained through close observation.”
Tatanka Ohitika—Brave Buffalo,