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LGBT+ pride has always been part of Native American culture: 'We need to bring it back'

European colonizers forced Native Americans to assimilate to their cis heteronormative standards. Now, Indigenous communities are embracing their LGBTQ+ positive roots.

LGBT+ pride has always been part of Native American culture: 'We need to bring it back'
Image Source: Facebook/ TwoSpiritNation

With the advent of colonization, many Indigenous communities were forced to assimilate to Eurocentric standards in order to survive. These standards include cis heteronormativity. However, Native American culture has always embraced the LGBTQ+ community. This could not have been more evident than at the state of Arizona’s first two-spirit powwow. This was only one of many powwows that have recently sprung up in support of LGBTQ+ individuals. The term "two-spirit" is used by Indigenous communities to describe Native people who fulfill a traditional third-gender (or other gender-variant) ceremonial and social role in their cultures, The Washington Post reports.


Kay Kisto, the reigning Miss Indian Transgender Arizona, said in an interview with the news outlet, "To actually be here, to be at the first-ever [Two-Spirit Powwow] in Arizona—I’ve been having goosebumps ever since I got here." The 35-year-old grew up on the Gila River Indian Reservation, just south of Phoenix. During her childhood, she was afraid of facing harassment or violence as a result of her true gender identity. Therefore, the ability to celebrate her gender and sexuality in an event on her tribe’s traditional lands was overwhelming for Kisto. She believed it was a sign of change.


She would not be wrong. Dozens of two-spirit organizations have been established across North America in the recent past. For instance, in California, the Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirit Powwow is now in its eighth year. Every year, about 4,000 people attend the event. In addition to this, cities like Saskatoon and Winnipeg in Canada have also hosted two-spirit powwows. Furthermore, in 2018, a two-spirit contingent participated in the grand entry at the Gathering of Nations for the first time. The Gathering of Nations is the world’s largest powwow. Meanwhile, two-spirit powwows are becoming more common across the continent.


More and more Native Americans have reaffirmed that rigid ideas of gender and sexuality are the remnants of colonization. They believe it is time to decolonize their communities and rethink Native identities on their own terms. Chris Finley, assistant professor of American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California and member of the Colville Nation, stated, "There’s no way you can talk about colonization without talking about gender and sexuality." According to the professor, Eurocentric understandings of gender roles, land ownership, and inheritance were deeply intertwined and crucial to the process of seizing the continent from indigenous people.


Roger Kuhn, board member of Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits and member of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, reiterated Finley's assertions. "If you don’t lose your language, start practicing Christianity, cut your hair, learn to speak English, you will die," he explained. "That’s the choice so many native people were given. Assimilation means you lose a lot of your identity and in that assimilation process I think is where we went astray with sexuality." Now, Native American communities are going back to their roots and embracing their LGBTQ+ positive traditions. Planning the Arizona Two-Spirit Powwow is one of the ways Indigenous people are doing so.


Sheila Lopez, the founder of Phoenix Native PFLAG, the only Native American-focused chapter of the nationwide organization for families and allies of LGBT people, was one of the individuals responsible for the event. She grew up in Winslow, outside the Navajo Nation Reservation. Two of her three children came out to her as gay. "This community is marginalized and stigmatized and harassed," she said. "When [my children] came out, it was so hard for me, because I knew that society wasn’t so accepting." She only heard of the Navajo Nation's fluid ideas of gender after her children came out to her. Lopez affirmed, "For me, it’s like, why wasn’t I taught that? We need to start talking about bringing back those traditions of accepting everyone no matter your orientation or your gender expression."


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