Duane Brayboy: Outsiders tried to wipe out Native gender identity

Duane Brayboy. Photo from Facebook

Duane Brayboy (Tosneoc Tuscarora) looks at the history of gender roles in tribal societies:
Of all of the foreign life ways Indians held, one of the first the Europeans targeted for elimination was the Two Spirit tradition among Native American cultures. At the point of contact, all Native American societies acknowledged three to five gender roles: Female, male, Two Spirit female, Two Spirit male and transgendered. LGBT Native Americans wanting to be identified within their respective tribes and not grouped with other races officially adopted the term "Two Spirit" from the Ojibwe language in Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1989. Each tribe has their own specific term, but there was a need for a universal term that the general population could understand. The Navajo refer to Two Spirits as Nádleehí (one who is transformed), among the Lakota is Winkté (indicative of a male who has a compulsion to behave as a female), Niizh Manidoowag (two spirit) in Ojibwe, Hemaneh (half man, half woman) in Cheyenne, to name a few. As the purpose of "Two Spirit" is to be used as a universal term in the English language, it is not always translatable with the same meaning in Native languages. For example, in the Iroquois Cherokee language, there is no way to translate the term, but the Cherokee do have gender variance terms for "women who feel like men" and vice versa.

The Jesuits and French explorers told stories of Native American men who had "Given to sin" and "Hunting Women" with wives and later, the British returned to England with similar accounts. George Catlin said that the Two Spirit tradition among Native Americans "Must be extinguished before it can be more fully recorded." In keeping with European prejudices held against Natives, the Spanish Catholic monks destroyed most of the Aztec codices to eradicate traditional Native beliefs and history, including those that told of the Two Spirit tradition. In 1530, the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca wrote in his diary of seeing "soft" Native Indian males in Florida tribes dressing and working as women. Just as with all other aspects of the European regard for Indians, gender variance was not tolerated. Europeans and eventually Euro-Americans demanded all people conform to their prescribed two gender roles.

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Duane Brayboy: Two Spirits, One Heart, Five Genders (Indian Country Today 1/23)

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