What is Two-Spirit?

At the third annual Inter-tribal Native American, First Nations, Gay and Lesbian American Conference, held in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1990, activist Albert McLeod proposed the term two-spirit to refer to the Indigenous LGBTQ+ community. The term was well-received by the conference attendees and soon gained popularity within Indigenous communities.

Though Two Spirit may now be included in the umbrella of LGBTQ, The umbrella term “Two Spirit” does not simply mean someone who is Indigenous and gay. Different Indigenous cultures have their own variations of the term two-spirit, but all of these terms have historically been used to describe similar traits embodied by two-spirit people including gender and sexual variance, specialized work roles, dress, and spiritual identity. They are considered neither men nor women but occupy a distinct gender status with their own specific names, cultural roles, and oral history.

Two-spirit also referred to spiritual identity. In many Indigenous communities, two-spirited individuals were believed to have received supernatural intervention in the form of dreams and visions. As such, they often filled special spiritual roles in their communities as healers, shamans and ceremonial leaders. Historically, two-spirit people were also great sources of knowledge; they were keepers of traditions and tellers of creation stories.

 Most Indigenous communities have specific terms in their own languages for the gender-variant members of their communities and the social and spiritual roles these individuals fulfill; with over 500 surviving Indigenous cultures, attitudes about sex and gender can be very diverse. Even with the modern adoption of pan-Indigenous terms like Two Spirit, not all cultures will perceive two spirit people the same way, or welcome a pan-Indigenous term to replace the terms already in use by their cultures.

The destruction and cultural trauma caused by colonialism resulted in the loss or repression of many traditions in Indigenous communities. Two spirit roles, in particular, were singled out for condemnation, interference, and many times violence. As a result, two spirit traditions and practices went underground or disappeared in many tribes. Today, Indigenous people throughout Canada are reviving the two spirit role and its traditions, re-engaging with the two-spirit youth in their communities. National gatherings of two spirit people have been held since the early 1990s, and regional gatherings are held in many parts of the country.

Two-Spirit Resources

This is but a short list of Resources for two-spirit individuals to provide information and support. We encourage you to seek out your local Indigenous communities, and to get in touch with those engaged in practices, rites, and rituals that are meaningful and culturally informed.

Sik-Ooh-Kotoki Friendship Society

Canadian Encyclopedia on Two-Spirit

8 Things you should know about Two-Spirit People

Native Youth Sexual Health Group

Trans Equality Society of Alberta Resource and Information Database for Two-Spirit