Alaska Native transgenderism is seeping its way into traditional native culture in the form of the fabricated term “two-spirit.” Alaska Natives are generally united in anthropological terms with American Indian (AI/AN). However, historically two-spirited persons are predominantly unfounded in Alaska Native records. While American Indians share an overarching parallel of significant commonalities such as resilience, colonization, and historical trauma, such a correlation as it relates to two-spirited history is misleading.
Two-spirit classification occurred in 1990 by a group of AI/AN activists at the third annual Intertribal Native American, First Nations, Gay and Lesbian American Conference, held in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Activist Albert McLeod proposed the term two-spirit to refer to the Indigenous LGBTQ community. Present day, the term is now being used as an indoctrination tool for young Indigenous and non-native children throughout the country. Drag queen story hours have popped up in Alaska and all over the Lower-48 that include choice books like “Rainbow Crow” and “47,000 beads” which idolize and normalize gender dysphoria and instill confusion into delicate, wide-eyed little ones.
Engaging our cherished Elders and preserving their stories is essential in preventing this historical revisionism.
Storytelling within the Alaska Native community is precious and sacred. As many Alaska Native languages are primarily oral, storytelling is a means of teaching life lessons on heritage and survival. Although there is traditionally a stronger reliance on written (rather than oral) history in academia, Dr. Gregory Smithers of the Virginia Commonwealth University in his 2014 peer-reviewed article on two-spirit identity among the Cherokee argues that oral tradition is critical to a more complete understanding of history. His reasoning for this stance is due to the fact that only a single written account from 1825 exists of men performing women’s duties. As public as this issue has been recently, the One Spirit Warriors (OSW) initiative has invited a diverse group of Alaska Natives, Elders and a younger generation from across the state to share any oral history passed down from their ancestors as it relates to two-spirit ideology. One Spirit Warriors has yet to receive confirmations of this teaching, which begs the question: “Where is the local Alaska Native history of two-spirit identity?”
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What local history does show, based on findings by the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak, is that before any Christian influence of the Russian Orthodox faith, the coastal Alutiiq/Sugpiaq people of Southcentral Alaska had very specific guidelines applicable to gender roles and marriage. Interestingly, husbands moved in with their wives’ families to aid in the duties involving food gathering and labors of survival. Wives commonly received tattoos that marked significant life events that affected their identity such as marriage, motherhood, and the transition to Elder status. Many argue that the influence of Christianity had compelled such structure, but archaeological artifacts of living conditions demonstrate that prior to the Russian’s arrival, gender and roles in marriage were very well-defined.
The modern term “two-spirit” is not as prevalent in historical documents or oral history as activists would like the general public to believe. Engaging our cherished Elders and preserving their stories is essential in preventing this historical revisionism. Their influence in perpetuating our culture is significant for the safeguarding of those beliefs that the majority of Alaska Natives cherish such as our tradition, culture, and valuing our Creator-given identities.
The views expressed here are those of the author.