Monday, October 12, 2015

Monday October 12, 2015 - Two-Spirit Native American

In honor of Columbus Day, I wanted to highlight the Native American two-spirited people.

For thousands of years, Native American cultural recognized and honored their tribal members who had two-spirits, both male and female.

These members were given a place of honor because of their unique gift that allowed them to understand both men and women.

In many tribes, gender was chosen by the child based on a ceremony in which the child chose a role or by actions observed over time by the tribe.

These tribal members lived in either one role or crossed between both roles within the tribe. Meaning females could be hunters and warriors, which are male roles while males could be cooks, caregivers and artists which were female roles. Their daily activity did not define their sexuality, only their wardrobe and role within the tribe.

Some of these members had same-sex companions while others had opposite-sex companions.

It was the European interaction and influence that demonized and erased the two-spirit members.

Native American Transwoman in 1800's

We'wha (1849–1896, various spellings) was a Zuni Native American from New Mexico. He was the most famous lhamana, a traditional Zuni gender role, now described as mixed-gender or Two-Spirit. Lhamana were men who lived in part as women, wearing a mixture of women's and men's clothing and doing a great deal of women's work as well as serving as mediators.

We'wha met President Grover Cleveland and was generally mistaken for a cisgender woman. One of the anthropologists close to them described We'wha as "the strongest character and the most intelligent of the Zuni tribe" (Roscoe, 1991, p. 29).

She is historically known mainly for the fact that she was man but chose to live out her life as a woman. In the nineteenth century this status was called berdache, being anatomically one sex but performing tasks that were equated with the other (Roscoe, 1991, pg.29).

In We'wha's case she was a man but performed tasks of a Zuni woman. During her lifetime she came in contact with many white settlers, teachers, soldiers, missionaries, and anthropologists. One anthropologist she met was Matilda Coxe Stevenson, who would later become a prominent figure in We'wha's life. Stevenson wrote down her observations of We'wha, going on to state, "She performs masculine religious and judicial functions at the same time that she performs feminine duties, tending to laundry and the garden" (Suzanne Bost, 2003, pg.139).

Historical Two Spirits

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