Native American perspective on LGBTQ community
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 00:09
On Wednesday, Harlan Pruden of the Cree Nation enlightened students about the Native and Two-Spirit approaches to gender and sexuality at the Rainbow Center.
“Two-Spirit,” Pruden said, “contemporarily is LGBTQ identified Native Americans.”
Two-Spirits, in traditional Native American culture, are individuals who are neither just male nor just female. Rather, they are celebrated men and women who encompass both genders, wearing clothing associated with both. Two-Spirits were permitted to marry and have relations with either sex and were among the most respected members of the tribe.
Pruden began by addressing the issue of misrepresentation and the suppression of Native Americans. He told students that questions like “What is an Indian? Who is an Indian? What is a native? Who is a native?” still have no definitive answers. Some tribes are federally recognized, while others are only recognized at the state level. Some tribes who have lived on their ancestor’s soil for centuries are not recognized at all, while those with native lineages are only partially identified. To this date, there are over 4.5 million Native Americans in the United States and not all of them have identities recognized by society.
By pointing out the vast differences in Native American cultures and traditions, Pruden demonstrated how Two-Spirit is not the same for each people. Native Americans differ from each other in many ways, including language, values, customs and traditions. Language itself divides Native Americans from north to south, but unites tribes from the same regions east to west. Because of so many differences, there is hardly ever a 100% consensus between peoples. Differences in protocol and procedure make it difficult for Native Americans to share common approaches to a variety of subject matters.
After a brief introduction addressing the misunderstandings about Native American peoples by society and the disunity between Native Americans themselves, Pruden began explaining Two-Spirit. He first defined gender and sexuality. Gender is a social role or norm, while sexuality is a personal, emotional and physical preference. He then explained the history of Two-Spirit and how there was a French term “berdache” used to describe Native peoples who wore male and female clothing at the same time. After natives spoke out against this term in 1989, the term Two-Spirit was adopted instead.
Pruden gave examples of how gender and sexuality were dealt with in native customs. In the Mojave tradition, a girl or boy who didn’t seem to fit into their traditional roles went through what’s called a basket and bow gathering. The child would sleep in a wigwam with a bow on one side and a basket on the other. As the wigwam was lit on fire, adults would shout out to the child to run. In this heightened fearful state, the child would be forced to face his or her truth, choosing either the bow or the basket. Depending on the choice, the child would be raised as a man or woman and learn what is traditionally either masculine or feminine.
“I really enjoyed the examples Pruden used to explain Two-Spirit,” said Bless Gomes, a 3rd semester physiology and neurobiology major. “You can tell he knows a lot of all different Native American tribes and respects their cultures and traditions.”