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Native American Sacred Traditions and Western Culture

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Westerners confronting the limitations of our own dualistic culture regarding gender, often rush to appropriate Native "two-spirit" traditions ("berdache", etc) as examples of the acceptance and affirmation we long for in our own culture. Yet, in our excitement and ignorance, we often trample on the very same sacred traditions we are trying to honor.

While usually unintentional, this trend is a modern form of racist imperialism.

Explore with joy -- but if you honor and value the traditions, then please take the time to engage and learn with respect...

An article by a professor of religious studies discussing the need to listen carefully...

In my culture we have people who dress half-man, half-woman. Winkte, we call them in our language, but gay people are dressing up as women in our dances, and that's not the way. ...If you are Winkte, that is an honorable term, and you are a special human being. And among my nation and all Plains people, we consider you a teacher of our children, and are proud of what and who you are. If you're going to sing my songs, and do my dances, then ask us. Quit butchering my songs, my dances, and the things that I am proud to wear. It means nothing now.

 


Trying to Understand

A strong exploration of the conceptual difficulties Westerners face in understanding sacred Native gender traditions


The Basics

Cultural Misunderstandings

I-coo-coo-a (Sauk and Fox); Agokwa (Ojibwa); Hee-man-eh (Cheyenne); Ougokweniini (Anishnawbe); Winkte (Sioux and Lakota); Ihamana (Zuni); Nadleeh (Navajo); Tanowaip (Shoshoni); Kwidˇ (Tewa); Manly Hearts (The North Piegan)

Sexual/Gender Misunderstandings

Western Misappropriation of "two-spirit"

Making Amends

Modern Manifestations

Special Thanks to Berdache Jordan, Gary Bowen, Walter L. Williams, Paula Gunn Allen, Will Roscoe, Russell Means, Diane Way, Marlon NoHeart, Fire Carrier


Conflicting Terminology

What's the problem with "berdache"? by Gary Bowen

By a transgendered Native American

What are Two-Spirits/Berdaches? by Will Roscoe

An introduction by a gay anthropologist who continues to use "berdache"


Native Americans Speak for Themselves

Please note: For too many centuries, we Westerners have set the parameters for discussion. For too many centuries, Westerners have preferred our own imaginations to the truth of Native speakers. It is simple really. It is time for us to shut up and listen.

Transgendered Native Americans by Gary Bowen (Gary)

A brief introduction to Native traditions by a transgendered Native American

GENDYS Network, Conference Papers, by Marjorie Anne Napewastewi˝ SchŘtzer

Free to be Responsible by Russell Means

In my culture we have people who dress half-man, half-woman. Winkte, we call them in our language, but gay people are dressing up as women in our dances, and that's not the way. ...If you are Winkte, that is an honorable term, and you are a special human being. And among my nation and all Plains people, we consider you a teacher of our children, and are proud of what and who you are. If you're going to sing my songs, and do my dances, then ask us. Quit butchering my songs, my dances, and the things that I am proud to wear. It means nothing now.

ňsowaha by Ahasiw Maskegon Iskwew

Meet Cherokee Rose

Related resources: Native Trans Resources (by American Boyz); Two Spirit Voices; Queers for Reconciliation; Queers and Indigineous in Canada, Whitewolf's Den

General Native American Resources: First Nations Histories


On White Privilege

White privilege by Robert Jensen

Why learn about this history? (author?)


Brief Introductions to "berdache"

Please note: "Berdache" is an accepted anthropological term, but many Native Americans consider it an example of residual European colonialism. The term is steeped in a history of racism, imperialism, and misunderstanding. It also suggests an overgeneralization -- that there was a singular practice found among all Native nations. In fact, practice varied significantly between various Native nations.

What are Two-Spirits/Berdaches? by Will Roscoe

An Introduction to Berdachism

The Berdache Spirit by Wendy Susan Parker

The Berdache Tradition

Berdache by Chelsea Fischer


We'wha: Zuni Man/Woman by Laura Darlene Lansberry

Artistic rendition of We'wha, extraordinary Zuni man/woman, 19th cent. CE

Native vs. White Sex Cosmologies: Sex and Gender Variability vs. Variance in Inter- vs. Intracultural Perspective. by Heike B÷deker, Kiira Triea, Teresa Binstock

An academic article by German authors with detailed treatment of gender in Native and Western contexts

Native American Berdache: A Symbol of Identification and Power for Native and Non-Native Gay Men? by Andrea Maldonado

The Spirit Path of a Modern Winkte by Georgie Jessup

Two Spirit


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