Home Culture Two Spirits, One Heart, Five Genders

Two Spirits, One Heart, Five Genders


It was not till Europeans took over North America that natives adopted the ideas of gender roles. For Native Americans, there was no set of principles that men and women needed to abide by in order to be considered a “normal” member of the tribe.

In fact, those who had both male and female traits were viewed as gifted by nature, and so, able to view both sides of what. According to Indian Country Today, all native communities acknowledged that the following sex roles: “Female, male, 2 Spirit feminine, Two Spirit male and Transgendered.”

“Each tribe has their own specific term, but there was a need for a universal term that the general population could understand. The Navajo refer to Two Spirits as Nádleehí (one who is transformed), among the Lakota is Winkté (indicative of a male who has a compulsion to behave as a female), Niizh manidoowag (two-spirit) in Ojibwe, Hemaneh (half man, half woman) in Cheyenne, to name a few. As the purpose of “Two Spirit” is to be used as a universal term in the English language, it is not always translatable with the same meaning in Native languages. For example, in the Iroquois Cherokee language, there is no way to translate the term, but the Cherokee do have gender variance terms for ‘women who feel like men’ and vice versa.”

The “Two Spirit” culture of Native Americans was one of the first items that Europeans worked to destroy and cover up. According to folks like American celebrity George Catlin, the two Spirit tradition had to be eradicated before it could enter history books. Catlin said the tradition:

“..Must be extinguished before it can be more fully recorded.”

But, it wasn’t just white Europeans that tried to hide any trace of native gender-bending. According to Indian Country Today, “Spanish Catholic monks destroyed most of the Aztec codices to eradicate traditional Native history and beliefs, such as those that told of the Two-Spirit tradition.” Throughout these attempts by Christians, Native Americans were forced to dress and behave according to recently designated sex roles.

Osh-Tisch was born a male and married a lady, however, adorned himself in women’s clothes and lived daily life for a female. On June 17, 1876, Finds Them And Kills Them gained his reputation when he pitched a fellow tribesman throughout the Battle of Rosebud Creek. An act of daring bravery. Below is an image of Osh-Tisch and his spouse.

In Native American cultures, individuals were valued for their contributions to the tribe, instead of for masculinity or femininity. Parents didn’t assign gender roles to children, as well as children’s garments tended to become gender neutral. There were no ideas or ideas about how an individual should love; it had been simply a pure act that happened without judgment or hesitation.

With no negative stigma attached to a Spirit, there were not any inner-tribal incidents of retaliation or violence toward the selected people simply due to the simple fact that individuals identified as the opposite or both genders.

“The Two Spirit people in pre-contact Native America were highly revered and families that included them were considered lucky. Indians believed that a person who was able to see the world through the eyes of both genders at the same time was a gift from The Creator.”

Religious influences shortly brought serious bias against “gender diversity,” and so this pushed once openly alternative or androgynous people to one of two options. They could either live in hiding, and in dread of being found out, or they may end their lives. Many of whom did just that.


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