Author and Psychologist
The Two-Spirit Tradition in Traditional Indian Cultures

The Two-Spirit Tradition in Traditional Indian Cultures

Two-Spirit is an inter-tribal term that Indian people have created to describe men and women who possess both the spirit of a man and the spirit of a woman in one body.Two-spirits are Indian men who show they also have a strong feminine spirit or Indian women who show they also have a strong masculine spirit. There are dozens of American Indian tribes that have words in their own language for these two-spirit people. In Lakota, a male two-spirit or feminine man is called a winkte and a female two-spirit or masculine woman is called a wiyan bloka. The original Ojibwe words have been lost. White missionaries strongly discouraged or actively repressed the expression of the two-spirit traditions.

Two-Spirits in Native Culture

Two-Spirit people would very likely be considered gay, lesbian or transgender in White culture. In older times, they would typically dress in the clothing of the opposite sex. But these words don’t mean exactly the same thing. On the reservation a guy who sleeps with other men but who is masculine in manner and perhaps has fathered a child might be considered gay or bisexual but he likely would not be seen by the tribe as a winkte. Winkte typically married conventionally masculine men who didn’t consider themselves any different from “regular” men.

Two-spirit men and women often had special ceremonial roles or duties in traditional cultures and in many tribes still do. Many two-spirit people were traditional healers. Because they had two spirits in one body, they were often seen as good matchmakers or go-betweens when a man and a woman were having problems. In Lakota culture, winktes have a special role in the Sun Dance, are able to give special names to people, and often excel at beadwork. Female two-spirits often would join the men in war parties and are known for their bravery.

Gradual Progress for Two-Spirits

Gradually two-spirits are regaining some of the respect they had in traditional culture. But the homophobia that the White missionaries brought still lives in many Indian people. Many modern Indians see themselves as gay or lesbian and aren’t aware of the traditional roles they once would have played. LGBT Indians experience a lot of prejudice inside and outside the Indian culture. In that sense, the historical trauma for them is even worse than for other Indians.

Jason Ghost

Wicahpi Ata Hin (Star Above Him)

Image courtesy of Wikimedia and mjeffries4

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