Two-Spirit Identity in Native Culture
Two-spirit and gender-fluid people have always been a revered part of Native communities. It was during an Indigenous lesbian and gay gathering in Winnipeg in 1990, the term “Two-Spirit” was established in order to distinguish Native LGBTQ peoples from non-Native LGTBQ peoples. Two-Spirit is a connection to culture and spirituality.
Two-Spirit refers to a gender role, not a sexual orientation, specific to Native American and Alaska Native peoples. According to Indian Health Service, “Traditionally, Native American two-spirit people were male, female, and sometimes intersexed individuals who combined activities of both men and women with traits unique to their status as two-spirit people.”
Two-Spirit people can be straight, gay, bi-sexual, or asexual. Two-Spirit people can be male, female, transgender female, transgender male, non-binary, queer, or something else entirely.
The term is generally used by a Native American person to express that they do not conform to colonized systems of identity and kinship. Two-Spirit embodies an Indigenous worldview of gender.
Two-Spirit is Tribal Nation-specific. Native American and Alaska Natives are not a monolith. There are 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States, each with its own unique spiritual beliefs and cultural practices. Many tribes honored their Two-Spirit people because of their unique perspectives while other tribes lost their traditional knowledge of gender. Not all tribes or Native Americans have accepted and use the term. There is no one way to be a Two-Spirit Native American or Alaska Native.
Two-Spirit is a Native concept that was created by Native people who identified as Native LGBTQ.
Two-Spirit is not a term that should be used by individuals who are non-Native LGBTQ people.
Two-Spirit peoples may feel an additional stigma or barrier when seeking help for domestic, dating or sexual violence. An abuser may exploit their partner’s identity by using discrimination they may face about their identity to threaten to out them and further isolate them.
StrongHearts Native Helpline advocates are knowledgeable in serving the unique needs of LGBTQ2S+ peoples. StrongHearts Native Helpline was created by and built to serve Tribal communities across the United States. It is a culturally appropriate, anonymous, confidential, and free service dedicated to serving Native American and Alaska Native survivors and concerned family members and friends affected by domestic, dating, and sexual violence.
Help is available 24/7 by texting or calling 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) or via online chat at strongheartshelpline.org. StrongHearts Native Helpline is a project of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
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