Two-Spirit People Address Anti-LGBTQ Silence and Violence
As violence against Two-Spirit people continues on Indigenous tribal lands across North America, advocates hope their voices can be heard to prevent hate crimes against their people.
“Two-Spirit” is a relatively new umbrella term, described as an English (or colonized) construction to identify gender-nonconforming Indigenous peoples. The terminology was picked up by Native Americans and varies from tribe to tribe, though many recognized third-gender roles long before colonization in America, according to the Human Rights Campaign – and gender nonconforming Indigenous peoples were often revered in their respective relationships. communities, like the Crow Nation.
Before Western religion came to North America with far less fluid stances on sexuality—and then a marginalized Native American culture—many Two-Spirit people were considered blessed by their Creator for incarnating male and female spirits within them, according to Two-Spirit musician Tony Enos, writing for Indian Country Today.
However, tracing the exact history of Two-Spirit people has proven difficult, as much writing on the subject today was written by early European settlers who held biased opinions.
“Imagine going from your country where you are a famous two-spirited individual, to a boarding school where you are assigned your gender, with all reluctance about it being beaten,” Enos explained. “For many of our boarding school survivors – and those who didn’t – this was their reality. As a result, much more needs to be done to heal internalized socio-political stigma, phobia, and lateral oppression in the Two-Spirit community.
Wako John Hawk Co-Cke’ is a retired Certified Prevention Specialist for Behavioral Health in Oklahoma and identifies as transgender and Two-Spirit. They said Oxygene.com that the oppression of Two-Spirit people has spanned generations, affecting mental health today.
“The two-spirit culture was right: we taught sexuality. We have helped you with your gender identity. We helped you figure out who you were. We were healers,” Co-Cke’ said. “But because of the tyranny of the church and the government, we had to be buried with it. So we start all over again. »
Violent crimes against Two-Spirit people have continued into modern times, as highlighted in the 2011 PBS documentary “Two Spirits.” The film revolved around the brutal 2001 murder of 16-year-old Navajo teenager Fred Martinez, whose clubbed body was found in a shallow canyon in Colorado, according to the Washington Post. The killer, Shaun Murphy, 18, did not know the teenager but later boasted to friends that he had ‘beaten af**’.
Martinez was “nádleehí”, which described him as a “male-bodied person with a feminine nature”, in keeping with Navajo culture. The direct translation in his tribe meant “one who constantly transforms”, according to the documentary.
Murphy confessed to beating Martinez to death with what investigators believed was a rock and was sentenced to 40 years behind bars in 2002, according to The Journal. He was paroled in 2018.
The violence also scarred the life of 25-year-old Aubrey Dameron, who disappeared from her home in Grove, Oklahoma, in the Cherokee Nation in the early morning hours of March 9, 2019.
Dameron has called herself a Two-Spirit and faced backlash for her lifestyle, which is why authorities haven’t prioritized her disappearance, according to relatives. The local sheriff regularly spoke about Dameron’s ‘unique’ and ‘high-risk’ lifestyle, as well as the fact that Aubrey was ‘very sexually active’ – even in interviews with Oxygene.com.
Dameron’s aunt Pam Smith said Oxygene.com that his disappearance was “a heartache, again and again”.
“It meant the world to Aubrey to be part of the two-spirit community,” Smith said. “She embraced him more each time she learned more about herself.”
Dameron’s search led to several cadaver dogs banging on a tarp in a shed at her home and the discovery of bloody clothing in a nearby ditch. However, she has not yet been found.
“There is hope that we will have answers one day,” Smith added.
The stabbing death of Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow in 2017 also rocked the Indigenous and LGBTQ+ communities. Wounded Arrow, who identified as two-spirited, was found dead in her apartment in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, after neighbors complained about the smell of the body rotting, according to Chief Argus.
Wounded Arrow met his killer, Joshua LeClaire, at a halfway house. During his interviews with the police, LeClaire oscillated between claiming he was drunk and had no recollection of the murder and claiming that Wounded Arrow made unwanted sexual advances on him.
He was convicted of murdering Wounded Arrow and sentenced to 65 years in prison.
According to the Tribal Information Exchange, 78% of Two-Spirit women have experienced physical assault, while 85% have been sexually assaulted. Studies have found this to be four times higher than the estimate for women in the general population.
Yet many Two-Spirit people do not report their abuse.
The Tribal Information Exchange also cited a 2011 study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force showing that 56% of Two-Spirit participants had attempted suicide.
Murder continues to be the third leading cause of death for Native American women, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute.
Co-Cke’ told Oxygen.com that unification is imperative to bringing peace to the two-spirit community.
“We have to stop all of this,” Co-Cke’ told Oxygen.com. “We must be a human nation. We must be the rainbow nation. We must be together.
“Silence is the worst,” they added.
To learn more about the Two-Spirit community, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) regularly hosts several webinars, including resources on parenting and wellness within the Two-Spirit community.