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Indigenous Topics

What is Two-Spirit?

The term “two-spirit” (two spirit, two spirited, 2 spirit, or 2spirit) refers to an individual who identifies as having both a masculine and feminine spirit within Indigenous culture. Two-Spirit can describe same-sex attraction, gender fluidity, or spiritual identity and how Western culture may understand LGBTQ identities.  

The official term “two-spirit” was created in 1990 by Albert McLeod during the Third Annual Inter-Tribal Native American, First Nations, Gay and Lesbian American Conference in Winnipeg.   

Two-Spirit is a translation of the Anishinaabemowin term niizh manidoowag, meaning “two spirits.”  


University of Toronto and Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2021). Two-Spirit Community. Re:Searching for LGBTQ2S+ Health. https://lgbtqhealth.ca/community/two-spirit.php

them. (2018, December 11). What Does "Two-Spirit" Mean? | InQueery | them [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4lBibGzUnE&t=1s. 


Use the following terms as a foundation of your search:

Sexuality LGBTQ2+
Gender Spirituality
Identity Indigiqueer

 

Resources

Select resources from the U of C Catalogue

TEDx Talks. (2015, August 6). Why we need gender fluidity | Nicholas Metcalf | TEDxUMN [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICWB8pfGBvc

 

Nick Metcalf of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, speaks on his experiences as a two-spirited individual, and the necessity of gender fluidity in today’s world (TEDx Talk). 


 

National Film Board of Canada

Four youth travel Bebamikawe Trail on Wiikwemkoong Unceded First Nation Territory. Two of the youths are Two Spirited and discuss the confrontations and acceptance that they have encountered within their community and how it has affected their ability to experience and learn their culture. Long before the settlers arrived to Turtle Island (aka North America), there existed a Two Spirit Society in many tribal communities. The Two Spirited people were revered and treated with respect and equality. They were sought for their wisdom, healing, and visions. Once a child had reached the age of puberty, a special ceremony was held. The child would enter a lodge, and pick either a basket or a bow. The item chosen helped to provide guidance on whether the feminine or masculine role would be the path followed. The Two Spirit Society was quickly abolished with the arrival of settlers. The Two Spirit Society has been revived….Niish Manidoowag speaks to the real issues that Transgender Youth encounter in their life’s journey. We honour all LGBQT peoples everywhere.


Mishibinijima, D. (Director). 2017. Niish Manidoowag (Two-Spirited Beings) [Film]. National Film Board of Canada. 

National Film Board of Canada

This short documentary presents the empowering story of Rodney "Geeyo" Poucette's struggle against prejudice in the Indigenous community as a two-spirited person (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender).


Desjarlais, S. (Director). (2007). First Stories - Two Spirited [Film]. National Film Board of Canada. 

Impacts of colonization on Indigenous Two-Spirit/LGBTQ Canadians'experiences of migration, mobility and relationship violence

  • An exploratory, community-based research project examined the paths of migration and mobility of Canadian Indigenous people who identify as Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer (LGBTQ). A total of 50 participants in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada were interviewed, many of them telling stories about the multiple layers of domestic violence, violence in communities, state and structural violence that they experienced. In order to better respond to relationship violence experienced by Indigenous Two-Spirit/LGBTQ people it is necessary to understand the specific and historical context of colonization in which relationship violence occurs. We further need to align our efforts to end relationship violence with broader anti-violence struggles.

    Ristock, Janice, Zoccole, Art, Passante, Lisa, & Potskin, Jonathon. (2019). Impacts of colonization on Indigenous Two-Spirit/LGBTQ Canadians’ experiences of migration, mobility and relationship violence. Sexualities22(5-6), 767–784. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460716681474


Two-Spirit Identity in a Time of Gender Fluidity 

  • Indigenous sexual and gender minority people have been identifying as two-spirit since 1990 and are reclaiming traditional Indigenous gender terms such as nádleehí or agokwe. At the same time, Settler-dominated communities are undergoing a cultural shift toward challenging binary categories of sex and gender, causing some Settler governments to adopt a multi-gender framework reminiscent of the Indigenous systems they aimed to erase through colonial systems and practices. This article examines how shifts in Settler gender frameworks relate to traditional and contemporary understandings of gender in Indigenous nations and how Indigenous gender systems support resistance to ongoing colonization.

    Robinson, Margaret. (2020). Two-Spirit Identity in a Time of Gender Fluidity. Journal of Homosexuality67(12), 1675–1690. https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2019.1613853


Reclaiming Space-Regaining Health: The Health Care Experiences of Two-Spirit People in Canada

  • This paper documents the experiences of Two-Spirit people, both within society generally and in the context of health and health care. Findings of a national qualitative research study on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and Two-Spirit people's health care are reported with particular attention placed upon Two-Spirit people's notions of identity and community, the meaning of health, and the experience of health care barriers within and outside of Aboriginal communities. Currently, the body of academic research on health and health care access largely excludes gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered/transsexual people (glbt). The smaller growing body of research on glbt health has little reference to Two-Spirit people. This paper attempts to redress these glaring absences.

    Brotman, Shari, Ryan, Bill, Jalbert, Yves, & Rowe, Bill. (2002). Reclaiming Space-Regaining Health. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services14(1), 67–87. https://doi.org/10.1300/J041v14n01_04

The University of British Columbia offers a Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Studies research guide, with access to electronic resources such as books, articles, media, and theses that focus on two-spirit and LGBTQ2 topics among Indigenous communities. 

  • Use the left-hand tabs to find specific types of resources and research tips.

 

The University of Toronto offers the Two Spirit and LGBTQIA Indigenous Resources research guide, with access to archives, databases, books, and films that focus on LGBTQIA topics within Indigenous communities.  

  •  Use the left-hand tabs to find resources and further research in two-spirit and Indigenous studies.

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