Although the term Two Spirit is relatively new to the LGBTQ+ acronym, having been introduced in 1990, the concept is not new to Indigenous cultures. Indeed, the term Two Spirit is simply an umbrella term that encompasses a multitude of cultural beliefs and traditions. These Two Spirit traditions are not new, but rather a resurgence of what has always been. Two Spirit identity can best be defined as having two spirits, one masculine and one feminine, in one body. For some, it is simply that. For others, what it means to identify as Two Spirit becomes a little more complex and involves not only gender identity, but sexual identity as well. In any definition, to be Two Spirit is a spiritual journey. Two Spirit people were revered and celebrated as gifts from the Creator and deserve to be celebrated still.
What is the origin of the term Two Spirit?
Each tribe has its own words for those who identify as Two Spirit. For example, ogokwe in Ojibwe and puoin in Mi’kmaq to only name a couple. In 1990, the term Two Spirit was coined to purposely create an umbrella term for Indigenous people as an alternative to Western labels. In some cases, Indigenous people did not truly identify with labels such as “lesbian”, “gay”, or “transgender”. This term was also meant to replace “berdache”, a name given to those with alternative gender roles and identities in Indigenous cultures that did not fit the Western mould. This term is not proper and can be offensive.
This sounds like me! Can I be Two Spirit?
If you are asking this as somebody who is not of Indigenous descent, then the answer is no. Two Spirit identity is more than a gender identity (or sexual identity, depending on which Indigenous person you ask). It is also a cultural identity and speaks to the specific history of Indigenous people.
Do all Indigenous LGBTQ+ folks identify as Two Spirit?
Nope, and that’s okay! Not all tribes think of Two Spirit identity in the same way.
Which pronouns do I use for somebody who is Two Spirit?
If you’re unsure, ask! This is a personal journey and every Two Spirit person will have a different answer for you. Many Two Spirit individuals will use they/them pronouns because there aren’t any gendered pronouns in Indigenous languages.
Where can I learn more?
There are plenty of resources available!
- Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things-a documentary exploring LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit Inuit culture
- Fire Song– a film with a Two Spirit main character who is struggling with their identity, intergenerational trauma, and their sister’s suicide.
- Two Spirits- A documentary that explores the murder of Navajo teen Fred Martinez who identified as nadleeh, the Navajo term equating to Two Spirit.
- Egale: Two Spirits, One Voice – Funded through the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, this program works with community service providers to ensure that all services within a community are equipped to provide inclusive and cultural aware services with regards to gender and sexuality.
“Two Spirit identity is about circling back to where we belong, reclaiming, reinventing, and redefining our beginnings, our roots, our communities, our support systems and our collective and individual selves”
– ALEX WILSON