What Does Two Spirit Mean?

This fall brings the new school year and new books. In Surviving the City, readers connected with Indigenous teens Dez and Miikwan in a story about kinship, resilience, cultural resurgence, and the anguish of a missing loved one.

This October, Dez and Miikwan return in From the Roots Up, Volume 2 in the Surviving the City series. Dez’s grandmother has passed away. Grieving, and with nowhere else to go, she’s living in a group home. On top of everything else, Dez is navigating a new relationship and coming into her identity as a Two-Spirit person. Miikwan also has a new love interest, but she is struggling to understand what Dez is going through. Elder Geraldine is doing her best to be supportive, but she doesn’t know how to respond when the gendered protocols she’s grown up with that are being thrown into question.

But what does “Two Spirit” mean?

Elder Albert McLeod answers this question for readers in the back of From the Roots Up. We have reproduced that text here, with his permission.

What Does Two Spirit Mean?

In Algonquian nations, humans are understood to possess the same beauty and mystery associated with other elements of the Natural World. Each child born into this world has a purpose and a destiny, and carries a divine gift. This belief is expressed in the Ojibwe term aawi, which literally means he/she is who he/she is supposed to be. Algonquian people who are gender fluid and/or sexually diverse (LGBTQI) are accepted as the part of the intentional design of the Spirit and Natural Worlds, and as such, it is a cultural taboo to critique or interfere with their identity, role, or life journey.

During the early colonial period, Canada and various church groups that ran Indian Residential and Day Schools disrupted this cultural imperative and introduced homophobic and transphobic attitudes across the nation. As Indigenous LGBTQI people recovered from generations of oppression and shaming, they began to gather and share their stories and experiences. At the third gathering of Native American Gays and Lesbians in Manitoba in 1990, Dr. Myra Laramee introduced the term Two-Spirit people, and it was quickly adopted by those in attendance.

Two-Spirit is an umbrella term that provides a window into the many Indigenous Nations and societies that honoured and respected their community members who were LGBTQI. There are over 150 words and terms in various Indigenous languages that describe this diversity. The name Two-Spirit reconnects Indigenous LGBTQI to the Spiritual and Natural Worlds.

Because of the shame that was introduced to our communities, many Two-Spirit youth experience teasing, bullying, shaming, and violence because people do not want to understand who they are or accept they have a respected place in their families and communities. This discrimination has increased the rate of suicide among Two-Spirit people and results in many Two-Spirit youth becoming homeless and living in poverty. However, as we begin to decolonize and reconcile from past harms, and as this story informs us, we must continue to provide the nurturance, love, and acceptance that Two-Spirit youth crave from their families and communities.

Albert McLeod
April 1, 2020

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Surviving the City brought awareness to the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People, but From the Roots Up picks up the narrative in a conversation about gender, sexuality, and supportive allyship. These conversations are particularly relevant to today’s students—get the teacher guide for support in bringing Surviving the City (Volume 1) into your classroom! 

Pre-order From the Roots Up here.

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