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I met David in 2004 when we were both doing work in HIV prevention. David, as well as other friends, would talk about being Two Spirit and taught me what it meant, how the term originated, why it's important, and how their work educating about the Two Spirit experience is saving the lives of young Natives all over North America.

To learn more about David's Two Spirit Society you can go to this website: https://www.mttwospirit.org/

There are also these books on the subject: https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/two-spirit

And this documentary: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1296906/videoplayer/vi1540620825?ref_=tt_ov_vi

 (00:00) to (02:00)


L: I'm Dr. Lindsey Doe, clinical sexologist, and this is David Herrera, director of the Montana Two Spirit Society.  So, David, I am wondering if you could tell our audience what Two Spirit Means.

D: Probably one of the most asked questions that we get.

Both: "What's Two Spirit?"

D: For me, it's a cultural term more than anything else as it relates to Native and Indigenous tribes and people.

L: The term Two Spirit came out in 1990?

D: I believe it was about 1988 or '89.

L: Okay.

D: Back then, you know, during the 80s and stuff, HIV was already hitting so it was already mobilizing a lot of LGB communities around that.  So there was talk about wanting to bring together and start like this Native national organization.  For the most part, a lot of the Native folks did not identify with the Gay, LGB, you know, T, community at all.  They were more identified with their tribe.  It's like I'm not a gay, you know, man, I am Cherokee or I am Blackfeet.  It was a very foreign concept to create an identity based on your sexual expression, because every tribe had their own word for what it meant to be kinda like Two Spirit or gay and lesbian and stuff.  So we knew, like, we can't use, you know, Nádleeh, the national Nádleeh, because that was really only, referred to Navajo, or WíĹ‹tke which would be more the Sioux and Lakota.  And so I tried to come up with a word that was a kind of umbrella that everybody would know that this is what we're talking about.  So one of the first gatherings was in Minneapolis in the late 80s and it was at that gathering that the folks came up with the term Two Spirit.  Would that work?  Was that something we could all agree on, that we could identify with and use?  That when we put that out there that we were talking about Native, Indigenous individuals who identify or maybe are gay, lesbian, or what we would know as gay, lesbian, or trans.

 (02:00) to (04:00)


And at this year's gathering we had a panel of two spirit folks from Hawai'i, from Phillipines, from Mexico, and from Canada, and to hear the colonization of what happened and how those cultures and how the Two Spirit folks in those cultures were revered-same thing in Hawai'i, the exact same thing in Hawai'i, the Mahu, which would be the term that they use there, they were the ceremonial leaders, they were the name givers the same way that the Two Spirit folks in other tribes had the same responsibilities.

So to get back to the question, that a lot more than you need to know, but I guess that the Two Spirit term basically an embodiment of both the masculine and the feminine, and recognizing that in some tribes they recognize more than just two different types of- I mean, they might say that there are three or four or five different types of identities that could be female-female, male-female, male-male, whatever.  But for the most part Two Spirit is just encapsulating both the masculine and feminine.  But, like I said, there are a lot of Native or Indigenous folks that don't identify as Two Spirit, they'd rather identify as Gay or Lesbian because they see the Two Spirit as maybe not reflective of their life experience persay.  Or they might see that Two Spirit carries a type of responsibility, so you're actually working, you're helping your tribe and doing that stuff, doing kind of ceremony, then they would maybe identify as Two Spirit, but if they're not willing to do that, then they don't wanna take that term on for themselves, but I think for the most part, our work that we do is really trying to not only educate about what the term Two Spirit means, but more importantly, to educate about the history and how Two Spirit people were a part of all of these, you know, Indigenous and Native histories that for the most part was wiped out as a result of colonization and we were kinda taking out of the sacred circle and so our work is about bringing us back into that sacred circle, because without us then that circle's not complete.

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L: We're talking about the North American continent and the Indigenous people or First Nations people there, identifying as Two Spirit, but then also the larger tribe believing that these individuals are integral to the whole community as medicine people, as warriors, as--

D: Yeah, I mean, they were the name givers, they were the negotiators, they were, you know, the ceremonial leader.  I mean, and it varied, you know, again, from tribe to tribe depending on the type of roles and responsibilites that they had.  In fact, in some of the tribes, if they found that they knew from a very young age that this person was gonna end up being Two Spirit, they were groomed to be leaders within their community and even in some tribes, even to be chiefs, because they were, they were said to be that powerful, you know, and have that type of power and it all changed when the (laughs) the missionaries, you know, came and you know, the--everybody got put on reservations and there's stories in, when the Spanish came and conquered what we know now as Mexico, they saw that there were these individuals, you know, men kind of dressed as women and they said, nope, you can't have that.  I mean, so they would like, round them up and actually just have these dogs, you know, attack them and kill them, you know.  So once the tribes learned this is what the Spanish were doing, they would send runners to the next, you know, tribe telling them, you know, hide these individuals because they're killing them, you know, that they're targeting them out.  They're singling and killing them, so hide them so that you don't lose them and so they started doing that in order to try and protect these, you know, Two Spirit people that were very important to those cultures, but that's why, I mean, it's so great to see this, so many of these tribes that have still remained resilient are now, you know, preserving their language, preserving their culture, and when you talk to elders and stuff and they know, they remember that oh, yeah, we did have, you know, these Two Spirit individuals that, you know, they were just part of the tribe.

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They were just part of, you know, life.  We recognize that Two Spirit, the term, is a, an artificial sort of term that was created, that, you know, out of the English language as opposed to any sort of Indigenous, you know, tribal, you know, language, but there's like, hundreds and hundreds of different tribes so again, it was, we had to try and come up with a English term that everybody could sort of understand and relate to and know this is what we were talking about.  We've been asked, well then, can anybody use that term?  You know, why can't me, as a, you know, non-Native--

L: Can I identify as Two Spirit?

D: Yeah, and so our response is no.  It's like, for the simple fact that so much of the Native/Indigenous culture has been already appropriated and misappropriated, so we always, 'cause we get asked.  In fact, we were receiving emails from LGBT folks in Europe and saying, hey, I read about you, blah blah blah, and this really resonates with me and blah blah blah.  I really wanna, can we use our, the term 'Two Spirit' for our group and stuff?  And so our response is, like, to say, no.  We really don't want you to be using that term because that term is really unique.  It's a cultural term unique to Native/Indigenous, you know, peoples.  Instead, it's like, we would encourage folks to go back into their own history and look at, you know, what words, what were the terms, what was your history?  However the, you know, LGBT individuals, because I guarantee you they were there since day 1, and you know, go back into your culture and learn more about that and then try and come up with something that resonates and is more reflective of that culture as opposed to you know, appropriating something that's meant to be very culturally unique to the Native and Indigenous peoples not only here in this country, but you know, above and beyond, you know, these borders that we live in.  

 (08:00) to (10:00)


So, I think it's just a, it's part of that education to you know, what exactly does this term 'Two Spirit' mean?  You know, do we have transgendered folks that come and are identify as Two Spirit?  Absolutely.  But that doesn't mean that every transgendered person would be able to identify as Two Spirit because for us, it really is about a cultural term that relates more to you know, your tribe, your history, your Native/Indigenous, you know, people that you identify with.  At least that's how we view it, and I'd say for the most part, I think, I mean, there's like, now in this country, I think we have anywhere from 17 to 19 Two Spirit societies and more and more that are being created, which is amazing.  This is part of our vision.  This is part of the work and why we're doing this, is to really help inspire and these different tribes and stuff to go back and learn about their own history and it's like, oh, we have Two Spirit people here, too, and I was like, let's, how do we then, you know, bring awareness and because there's nothing being done for our Two Spirit community in North Carolina or South, you know, Carolina and stuff, and we know that there's tribes and have been tribes there for hundreds of years, 'cause this was the closest that I ever, anything resonated with my culture and growing up down on the border of Texas and Mexico when I met, you know, friends from the Blackfeet tribe and from all these different tribes and we all had the exact same experience when it came to the importance of you know, of ceremony and (?~10:04) of food and everything else and the laughter that we all, the healing through laughter which was so important, so yeah, it just--you can just click right there.

 (10:00) to (11:01)


It's like, this is my tribe.  This is my people.  This is where I belong and you know, this is where I can use my skills to help.  So I've been doing that for 30+ years.  

L: That's amazing.  It's so amazing.  Thank you for your greater good.  Thank you for your individual good.  It's so touching to hear your stories and so powerful to know everything that you're doing to help the people young and old go through their lives with more of a sense of self and belonging, so thank you.

L&D: Stay curious.  

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