Two Spirited was termed by a women named Myra Laramee at the 1990, 3rd annual Native American and Canadian Aboriginal LGBT people gathering in Winnipeg. Laramee had a spiritual vision in which her Anishinaabemowin name of niizh manidoowag translated to “having the ability to be neutral through the lens of having both feminine and masculine spirit”.
Two Spirit people have been around since before pre-contact with settlers. Two Spirit people held specific roles, teachings, meanings, and language within their communities that differed contextually.
Two Spirit people who were accepted and loved among most Indigenous communities. They were gifted with “double vision” seeing through both feminine and masculine lens which gave them the gift to hold positions such as chiefs, medicine people, protectors, knowledge keepers, and also made great marriage counsellors.
Two Spirit was not tied to ones own sexual and/or romantic preference but tired to their gender and/or roles they chose to do, much like how it is today. Two spirit people were identified by what types of roles they were interested in within the community such as a “girl” being drawn to hunting with brother.
Some used Ceremony to initiate a Two Spirit individual who had the choice of accepting and renaming themselves. Another example is the Dakota and Lakota tribes:
“their wintike were able to offer a boy a “sacred wintike name.” Possessing a wintike name was said to provide spiritual protection for the child, and helped to insure good health and a long life. To receive a wintike name the father of the child had to approach a wintike and flirt with them. If the wintike favors the father, the wintike will decide on a name. The wintike begins to prepare for the naming ceremony, by fasting and undertaking a vision quest, this is done to gain insight into the child’s future. The wintike was responsible for working with the child and family for up to a year, offering guidance. After the ceremony is over it was the wintike’s responsibility to look after the child for life, the wintike would gift the child with a medicine bag containing items associated with the wintike.”
First Contact & Impact of Colonization
French Jesuit missionary Joseph Francois Laifitau (1724) first wrote about Two Spirit people accounting that their opinions were asked of every ordeal that happened within the community which showed how important Two Spirited people were.
A famous historian, George Catlin’s states in his memoirs about the Two Spirit culture: “where I wish that it might be extinguished before it may be fully recorded”. Catlin’s view exemplified the ideals that colonialism had on Two Spirit people which explains why the term and people were “erased” and frowned upon for more than 100 years.
The fall of Two Spirited people began with the introduction of Residential School’s that contained extreme heteronormative roles for boys and girls. Indigenous children were forced onto them a new culture and way of living that was to be accepted or punished.
Two Spirit people lost their way along the process of colonization.
A Lakota Traditionist reported:
“By the 1940s, after more Indians had been educated in white schools, or had been taken away in the army, they lost the traditions of respect for wintikes. The missionaries condemned wintikes, telling families that if something bad happened, it was because of their associating with the wintike. They would not accept wintikes into the cemetery, saying their souls are lost. Missionaries had a lot of power on the reservations, so the wintikes were ostracized by many of the Christianized Indians.”
The harsh reality for Two Spirited was felt for more than 100 years with the last Residential School closing in 1996 and will be felt for generations to come.