By Sam Martin
This identity tug-of-war is a tool of colonialism, that insidious force that is still trying first and foremost to eradicate Native peoples and turn us against each other. That is why we are given "blood quantum", a percentage of "Indian" blood, like prize dogs in a competition. Many individuals anecdotally state that the so-called "percentage" is purposefully miscalculated to prevent Native people and their children from getting enrolled in their tribe, so that their children's identities are forgotten and lost to time. It is a bureaucratic extermination: less paperwork, less benefits to give to those in need, less justice to be paid. Less people to carry on the cultures and ways of life that directly oppose capitalism, the ownership of land, and the destruction of nature. Some call it a "paper genocide" (Hilleary, 2021)-- a way to reduce the number of enrolled individuals in a tribal nation, until, eventually, it dies out.
Historically, there have been many ways that colonist culture has tried to exterminate Native culture and lives. There were some more obvious attempts, such as the Trail of Tears and the Wounded Knee Massacre. There was the deliberate infection of smallpox, which killed as many as 500,000 indigenous people. Then there were "Indian" boarding schools, when young Native children were forced to attend Christian schools and stripped of their culture: their long hair cropped short, their languages and traditional ways of knowing banned, and their will destroyed through physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that occurred very often in these institutions, sometimes resulting in death. All of these deliberate and horrific acts of what can only be described as human rights violations and war crimes resulted in something known as intergenerational trauma, which is a phenomenon in which trauma mutates the genes, which is passed down through generations, increasing the likelihood for many diseases and mental illnesses. This accounts for the major health disparities that are seen in tribal populations.
This is why there must be visibility-- because visibility forces people to bear witness and hold accountable those that would continue to silently kill off our people and culture. Visibility can be promoted through the use of the term BIPOC (black and indigenous people of color), representation in media and mainstream culture, promotion of indigenous artwork (film, poetry, visual arts, music), diversity and inclusion training in healthcare and mental healthcare, the acknowledgement of occupation of Native lands (for example, in Helena, MT, we are occupying Salish and Blackfoot / Niitsítapi ᖹᐟᒧᐧᒣᑯ land), the de-exoticization of Native cultures, and the inclusion of the "2" in LGBTQIA2+.
So, what does the "2" stand for? Today, many conservative mouthpieces and social media "news" sources claim that there has been an uptick in individuals that identify as transgender, nonbinary, or genderqueer, framing it as a "fad". However, in many tribal cultures and in cultures throughout the world, there has always been the concept of transcending the gender binary. The term "two-spirit" was coined in 1989, an umbrella term derived from the Ojibwe "Niizh Manidoowag" that describes Native peoples that were blessed by the Creator with two spirits, a male and a female. It has since come to be adopted by people of many tribal cultures who were born into bodies that contain both of these spirits. Two-spirits are distinguished from other labels specified in LGBTQIA-- though they may also identify themselves with more than one label. Two-spirit people are believed to be born with a special medicine and the innate ability to bring balance. In their respective tribes, many two-spirit people are tasked with restoring this balance with prayer and other duties, something that is desperately needed in today's off-kilter world.
Two-spirit people suffer from a double cultural erasure. They experience the cultural genocide of indigenous peoples, as well as the historical and continuous attempt to kill off the ways of the two-spirit people due to the Eurocentric prejudices towards gender-nonconforming individuals. We live on Native land-- therefore Native people need to be included in all discussions of American history and the current socio-political climate-- including in the LGBTQIA2+ community. By limiting this discussion only to discussion of Native people, it reinforces the idea of the "other"-- that Native issues are not "American" issues. However, visibility is key to changing the trajectory of indigenous people in America.