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Beacon Press

Reclaiming Two-Spirits

Reclaiming Two-Spirits

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Sexuality, Spiritual Renewal & Sovereignty in Native America

Before 1492, hundreds of Indigenous communities across North America included people who were called aakíí’skassi, miati, okitcitakwe or one of hundreds of other tribally specific identities. These Individual identified as neither male nor female, but as both.

After European colonizers invaded Indian Country, centuries of violence and systematic persecution followed, imperiling the existence of people who today call themselves Two-Spirits, an umbrella term that started being used in 1990, when a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender natives met at an annual gathering, searching for language that would celebrate Indigenous diversity throughout North America. They decided Two-Spirits, which is derived from the Northern Algonquin word niiz manidoowag and denotes the existence of feminine and masculine qualities in a single person.

Covering five hundred years of history - and using archaeological evidence, art, written sources, and oral storytelling - Reclaiming Two-Spirits decolonises the history of gender and sexuality in Native North America. Examining sixteen images that reveal Two-Spirit history and culture, historian Gregory D. Smithers takes readers on a harrowing journey into Indigenous communities disrupted by colonial massacres, abductions, and inquisitions. The stories reveal how the authors of colonialism's written archives used violence and labels such as "hermaphrodite" and "berdache" to both denigrate and erase Two-Spirit people from Indigenous history. But as Smithers shows, the colonisers failed in the face of heroic acts of Indigenous resistance.

In the most up-to-date and complete history of Two-Spirit people ever written, Smithers brings to life the efforts of over five centuries of Indigenous people who had the foresight to take essential parts of their cultural life and Spiritual beliefs underground in a bid to save them.

A product of close work with members of the Two-Spirit community, as well as Native American scholars and activists, the book shows how Two-Spirit people are reclaiming their Native traditions, identities, roles, and, in some communities, their sacred status - reconnecting their vital history to Native nations in the twenty-first century.

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