Two Spirit

Written on 06/07/2021
Elena Gore, MS, LPC

Two Spirit people have existed in the American Indian culture for centuries. But what exactly does Two Spirit mean?

“Two Spirit” may sound like a new terms for most people, however, it has been around since 1990 in Canada. The term “Two Spirit” is used as an umbrella term encompassing people of all nations. Prior to 1990, the term used for these people was Berdache, but many nations have had specific names for such people such as Winkte in the Lakota language and Nadleeh in the Navajo language. There are images from the 1800s showing Two Spirit people, one of the most well-known being We-Wha of the Zuni nation. Two Spirit identities vary greatly from nation to nation, but some characteristics remain among them.

Two Spirit does not have regards to assigned sex at birth or sexual orientation, but instead, Two Spirit people have a male spirit and a female spirit both inside them, understanding gender as a spectrum instead of a dichotomy. Two Spirit people, in most nations, are not referred to as “male” or female” but instead given an alternative gender. Depending on the

nation and Indigenous language, a Two Spirit person was referred to by a third gender (when the Indigenous language did not have a distinction between male and female-bodied Two Spirit people) or a fourth gender (when the Indigenous language did specify between male and female-bodied Two Spirit people). A Two Spirit person may enjoy activities of the opposite sex, work in environments typical of the opposite sex, and have characteristics and temperaments typical of the opposite sex.

Two Spirit people and their traditions were forced to go underground with European colonization. Two Spirit people were fed to dogs, forced into schools were assigned sex at birth was forced onto them. Male sex children were forced to cut their hair and wear male clothing and female sex children were forced to wear dresses. Many traditions were lost due to marginalization and violence, but in the last 20 years Two Spirit gatherings, Pow Wows, and traditions have become more common.