*Guest Post: This is the first edition of a new series of blog posts written by current 2017/18 UBC teacher candidates. Thank you Tash for this incredibly informative and necessary first post! – Kiera
Two-Spirit (also two spirit or, occasionally, twospirited) is a modern umbrella term used by some Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (North America) to describe peoples in their communities who may fulfill a gender-variant role in their cultures. The term and identity of Two-Spirit is contextualized within an Indigenous (including First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and Native American peoples of the United States) framework and traditional cultural understanding; thus, someone who is not Indigenous cannot identify as Two-Spirit.
Global Understandings of Non-Normative Gender Identities
It’s important to remember that what is understood and accepted these days in terms of sexual orientations and gender identity is heavily influenced by colonialism. Oral and recorded histories support that cultures on nearly every continent have recognised and integrated non-binary understandings of gender identity. These identities were often heavily policed as a consequence of colonization, and often became less socially and politically accepted over time as a result of colonization – this has particularly political and tangible consequences on the realities of Two-Spirit peoples within Indigenous communities today. If you visit PBS.ORG’s world map you can take an interactive look at the diverse and fascinating global history of gender identities, including the many non-binary gender identities that are legally recognised in other countries today.
The term ‘Two-Spirit’ (sometimes shortened to 2S) was adopted by consensus in 1990 at an Indigenous lesbian and gay international gathering. With over 500 diverse Native American cultures in the United States, and nearly 600 Indigenous nations in Canada, attitudes about sex and gender are very diverse. Even with the modern adoption of pan-Indigenous terms like Two-Spirit, and the creation of a community around this, not all cultures perceive Two-Spirits the same way, or even welcome a term to replace the ones already in use by their cultures. Additionally, not all contemporary Indigenous communities are supportive of their gender-variant and or non-heterosexual peoples.
Historically, third- and fourth-gender roles traditionally embodied by Two-Spirit peoples include performing work and wearing clothing associated with both men and women. Not all Indigenous nations have rigid gender roles and expectations, but, amongst those that do, the most common spectrum references four genders: feminine woman, masculine woman, feminine man, masculine man.
What is my role as a BC teacher?
As you can see in the BC Curriculum documents Aboriginal perspective integration has been part of the curriculum for over a decade. With the addition of SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) education to the curriculum, we [as teachers] are responsible for incorporating content with which we personally may not have experience with. That means it’s important to gather resources, find supports, and educate ourselves, as we are legally required to navigate these often challenging topics in our classrooms in an inclusive and supportive manner. We hope that this post gives you a place to start considering the intersectionality of identities and the many different ways in which we experience the world.
Resources for Teachers
TWO-SPIRITS is a PBS film interweaving the tragic story of a mother’s loss of her son with a revealing look at the largely unknown history of a time when the world wasn’t simply divided into male and female and many Native American cultures held places of honor for people of integrated genders.
8TH FIRE is a four-part documentary series that focuses on colonial history and the relationship between Aboriginal people and Settlers to Canada. Episodes can be viewed online.
TWO SPIRIT YOUTH SPEAK OUT is a detailed needs assessment by the Urban Native Youth Association (UNYA)
SAFE AND CARING SCHOOLS FOR TWO-SPIRIT YOUTH is a toolkit on creating safer spaces for Two-Spirit youth in schools
MIGRATION WITHIN CANADA: 2 SPIRIT AND TRANS YOUTH contains six fact sheets which have been produced from research findings from a study done with Two-Spirit youth across Canada
QTBIPOC YOUTH ROAD MAP is an illustration by QTBIPOC (Queer Trans Black Indigenous People of Colour) youth that illustrates which resources and services are needed or lacking in their communities across BC
Resources for Kids (that you can pass on)
URBAN NATIVE YOUTH ASSOCIATION is a society based in Vancouver delivering a huge variety of programming to Indigenous youth
TRANS HEALTH INITIATIVE – TWO SPIRIT – resources and links around Two-Spirit health, sexual health and gender affirming medical interventions
DANCING TO EAGLE SPIRIT SOCIETY – The purpose of the society is to advance Native American healing and spiritual principles for aboriginal people who self identify as two spirit persons
WE R NATIVE is a comprehensive health resource for Native youth by Native youth with a holistic focus
About this Post
This post has been written collaboratively by two educators, neither of which are Two-Spirit identified. As such, it is more of a collection of resources and information published and written elsewhere with the intent to make an accessible and introductory overview of Two-Spirit identities for pre-service teachers. Because neither of us (Tash/Kiera) are from the Two-Spirit community, we must stress that we do not intend to speak for this community, but are happy to try and connect you with more resources and supports if you get in touch in the comments section.
About the Authors
Tash (they/ their /them) is a trans-masculine genderqueer author, student and teacher from Wales, now living on the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Watututh peoples. They worked in the field of queer education before entering the UBC BEd program with specialties in Computer Science and English.
Kiera Brant-Birioukova (she/her/hers) is a cisgendered woman from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in Ontario, Canada. As a Haudenosaunee doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum & Pedagogy, she is dedicated to working with teacher candidates towards ethical inclusion of Indigenous perspectives in the classroom. She has been a teacher educator within Indigenous teacher education at the University of Ottawa, University of Canterbury and the University of British Columbia.