Can white people use the term “Two Spirit”?

Q: I’m a white gender non-conforming person and I feel like the term two spirit is the best to describe myself. A friend said that using the term was cultural appropriation but it is the best word to describe my gender and spirituality and I use it with utmost respect for indigenous and first nations people. Is that ok?

A: Thank you for asking. Questioning your use of terms is an important step. The term two spirit is described by Sandra Laframboise and Michael Anhorn on Dancing to Eagle Spirit Society’s website as:

The two-spirited person is a native tradition that researchers have identified in some of the earliest discoveries of Native artifacts. Much evidence indicates that Native people, prior to colonization, believed in the existence of cross-gender roles, the male-female, the female-male, what we now call the two-spirited person.

In Native American culture, before the Europeans came to the America’s, “two-spirit” referred to an ancient teaching. This type of cross-gender identity has been documented in over 155 tribes across Native North America (Roscoe 1988).

Our Elders tell us of people who were gifted among all beings because they carried two spirits, that of male and female. It is told that women engaged in tribal warfare and married other women, as there were men who married other men. These individuals were looked upon as a third and fourth gender in many cases and in almost all cultures they were honoured and revered. Two-spirit people were often the visionaries, the healers, the medicine people, the nannies of orphans, the care givers (Roscoe 1988). They were respected as fundamental components of our ancient culture and societies. This is our guiding force as well as our source of strength. This is the heart of Two-Spirited People of the 1st Nations (2 Spirit Nation of Ontario) This paper explores what we know of the past of two-spirit people, compares that to the present experience and looks forward to the role that two-spirit people could play in the future of First Nation’s people in Canada and across North America.

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