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Reclaiming Two-Spirits: Sexuality, Spiritual Renewal & Sovereignty in Native America

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A sweeping history of Indigenous traditions of gender, sexuality, and resistance that reveals how, despite centuries of colonialism, Two-Spirit people are reclaiming their place in Native nations. Reclaiming Two-Spirits decolonizes the history of gender and sexuality in Native North America. It honors the generations of Indigenous people who had the foresight to take essent A sweeping history of Indigenous traditions of gender, sexuality, and resistance that reveals how, despite centuries of colonialism, Two-Spirit people are reclaiming their place in Native nations. Reclaiming Two-Spirits decolonizes the history of gender and sexuality in Native North America. It honors the generations of Indigenous people who had the foresight to take essential aspects of their cultural life and spiritual beliefs underground in order to save them. Before 1492, hundreds of Indigenous communities across North America included people who identified as neither male nor female, but both. They went by aak��'skassi, miati, okitcitakwe or one of hundreds of other tribally specific identities. 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 denoting feminine and masculine qualities in one person. Drawing on written sources, archaeological evidence, art, and oral storytelling, Reclaiming Two-Spirits spans the centuries from Spanish invasion to the present, tracing massacres and inquisitions and revealing how the authors of colonialism's written archives used language to both denigrate and erase Two-Spirit people from history. But as Gregory Smithers shows, the colonizers failed--and Indigenous resistance is core to this story. Reclaiming Two-Spirits amplifies their voices, reconnecting their history to Native nations in the 21st century.


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A sweeping history of Indigenous traditions of gender, sexuality, and resistance that reveals how, despite centuries of colonialism, Two-Spirit people are reclaiming their place in Native nations. Reclaiming Two-Spirits decolonizes the history of gender and sexuality in Native North America. It honors the generations of Indigenous people who had the foresight to take essent A sweeping history of Indigenous traditions of gender, sexuality, and resistance that reveals how, despite centuries of colonialism, Two-Spirit people are reclaiming their place in Native nations. Reclaiming Two-Spirits decolonizes the history of gender and sexuality in Native North America. It honors the generations of Indigenous people who had the foresight to take essential aspects of their cultural life and spiritual beliefs underground in order to save them. Before 1492, hundreds of Indigenous communities across North America included people who identified as neither male nor female, but both. They went by aak��'skassi, miati, okitcitakwe or one of hundreds of other tribally specific identities. 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 denoting feminine and masculine qualities in one person. Drawing on written sources, archaeological evidence, art, and oral storytelling, Reclaiming Two-Spirits spans the centuries from Spanish invasion to the present, tracing massacres and inquisitions and revealing how the authors of colonialism's written archives used language to both denigrate and erase Two-Spirit people from history. But as Gregory Smithers shows, the colonizers failed--and Indigenous resistance is core to this story. Reclaiming Two-Spirits amplifies their voices, reconnecting their history to Native nations in the 21st century.

44 review for Reclaiming Two-Spirits: Sexuality, Spiritual Renewal & Sovereignty in Native America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    I RECEIVED A DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA EDELWEISS+. THANK YOU. My Review: Start here, from the author's Prologue: Why was this new terminology needed?...Answering this question requires us to dig deeper; it is therefore one of the main focal points of this book. It requires a reexamination of colonialism's ongoing destructiveness and its different forms of violence—disease, physical acts of war and genocide, the cultural destructiveness caused by boarding scools, and the corrosive impact of corpor I RECEIVED A DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA EDELWEISS+. THANK YOU. My Review: Start here, from the author's Prologue: Why was this new terminology needed?...Answering this question requires us to dig deeper; it is therefore one of the main focal points of this book. It requires a reexamination of colonialism's ongoing destructiveness and its different forms of violence—disease, physical acts of war and genocide, the cultural destructiveness caused by boarding scools, and the corrosive impact of corporations and capitalism on Indigenous communities. In spite of five centuries of colonialism, it is still possible for Two-Spirit people to reclaim their traditions, identities, roles and their sacred status. For other Native people the term "Two-Spirit" is a starting point for telling new stories. Many, if not most, languages in the world do not use gendered pronouns. The existence of them, their mere presence, requires duality: like "she" can't exist without "he". Or so we are told in our language classes. The mere notion, like the current drive to accept and use broadly the singular "they", is causing such a huge amount of angst in those whose world is dualistic, almost Manichean, in its foundations. I tremble (with repressed laughter) contemplating these poor souls (yes, I mean "poor" as in "impoverished") even conceptualizing a world like that inhabited by Diné people with its five human genders! Something we in the so-called Western world can learn from Two-Spirit people is that the male-female gender (not biological sex, in other words) binary is not a natural but a historical invention. And even the biological sex binary isn't anything like as absolute as we're taught in US schools. Which is something I want to mention to my majority-white readership of all sexual natures: This is a book about Native/Indigenous/First Nations sexual and gender natures and it does not center (in any positive way) our settler/Euro/Judeo-Christian/Muslim world view. It is not meant to. It was not designed to. And that needs to be okay with you before you consider whether you're the audience for this richly textured, information-dense read. Do not go into the book thinking you're going to get spoon-fed some lightly seasoned apologia or even apology for "our" (in quotes because I, too, feel alienated from that culture in its broader outlines) actions towards the first inhabitants of this continent. The identity "Two Spirit," very much centered in this study, is not without contested and resisted facets. There are elders (people my exact chronological age!) who regard this new, "pan-Indigene" term with some caution. Many are the pitfalls on any newly blazed trail. The language of Two-Spiritedness is, like identities always will be, evolving. That being said, I trust you to decide what you want to do next. I encourage you to read this book because it doesn't center you, or your concerns. It isn't fiction so it isn't here to amuse; it's serious and scholarly, and while it's not obscurantist in writing style, it's not novelistic either. In a certain way, that's a shame. It's a wide-netted story that begs for a whole corpus of films, books, plays. The story of the American Indian AIDS Institute would serve as a kind of corrective to the damaging myth of "Patient Zero" that gay journalist Randy Shilts blew up into a cultural touchstone with his And the Band Played On bestseller-cum-film; something that muddles facts with homophobic stereotypes and racist myths. We need the stories of Barbara Cameron and Randy Burns, correctives to the anthropological Arabic-language-based and offensive term "berdache" for Two-Spirit people; we need them to reach a wide audience, and it's usually fiction that does that best. I think Catawba Nation queer activist and artist DeLesslin George-Warren, quoted by Smithers, said it best: "History is not a listing of facts, it's a mythology with citations." No matter that I call history "factual" it is, and of necessity must be, his-story, a story for all its pretensions to scientific rigor. The fact is I can holler at you all day long and even beg real fancy for you to pay attention to people unlike you, doubly unlike you straight readers. I wish I had the powers of persuasion to make the read sound as fascinating as I found it. It wasn't written by a Native American/Indigenous person. Instead, Author Smithers is Australian, straight, and a scholar; he has, with those Othered-from-Two-Spirit foundations, built a book about Otherness that is culturally sensitive, pluralistic in its aims and outlook, and a finely crafted pleasure to read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Morgan Frazier

    The information is all new. I have never encountered any of it in the traditional texts that I have had access to before this. It has allowed me to gain an expanded view of early history. One problem that I have with the book is the way the information is organized. While the information does fit into the broad categories like Sin and Strange, it is a loose fit. I feel like the book would have benefited from a time period organization with emphasis or note given to the themes. One helpful thin The information is all new. I have never encountered any of it in the traditional texts that I have had access to before this. It has allowed me to gain an expanded view of early history. One problem that I have with the book is the way the information is organized. While the information does fit into the broad categories like Sin and Strange, it is a loose fit. I feel like the book would have benefited from a time period organization with emphasis or note given to the themes. One helpful thing would be to have subthemes or titles in the main chapters. It would benefit the organization and the presentation of the information. The information can not be faulted.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Book Witch Bitch

    “Two-Spirit,” is a word that is heard with increasing attention among the LGTQIA+ community, but one that I wanted to learn more about. It is different than gay, or trans, or queer, it is entirely its own varied, complex identity. Gregory D. Smithers, (who is not Two-Spirit or Indigenous, but is transparent about this and acknowledges it with grace) begins this in-depth book by looking at the term itself. He writes, “…Why was this new terminology needed? Answering this question requires us to di “Two-Spirit,” is a word that is heard with increasing attention among the LGTQIA+ community, but one that I wanted to learn more about. It is different than gay, or trans, or queer, it is entirely its own varied, complex identity. Gregory D. Smithers, (who is not Two-Spirit or Indigenous, but is transparent about this and acknowledges it with grace) begins this in-depth book by looking at the term itself. He writes, “…Why was this new terminology needed? Answering this question requires us to dig deeper; it is therefore one of the main focal points of this book. It requires a reexamination of colonialisms ongoing destructiveness and it’s different forms of violence….In spite of five centuries of colonialism, it is still possible for Two-Spirit people to reclaim their traditions, identities, roles and their sacred status. For other Native people the term, Two-Spirit is a starting point for telling new stories,” there own stories. This book starts from the earliest days of pre-colonial Indigenous societies and nations that had very different and more widely accepted ideas of gender and sexuality, through the conquistadors and later European’s harmful imposition of their gender norms and then later still through the contemporary activism movements of AIM and the reclamation of Two-Spirit identities. This book is crucial for anyone who is interested in either Indigenous sovereignty and/or Two-Spirit histories and stories.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lizzy

    *This was a FirstReads GoodReads Giveaway* An excellent companion book to "The Afro-Indigenous History of the US". Perfect for those who are familiar with Queer Theory, and want to learn more about the actual history of Native Americans and not the settler-colonial version. It was well written and organized, and very much an announcement of, we have always been here and we are still here! *This was a FirstReads GoodReads Giveaway* An excellent companion book to "The Afro-Indigenous History of the US". Perfect for those who are familiar with Queer Theory, and want to learn more about the actual history of Native Americans and not the settler-colonial version. It was well written and organized, and very much an announcement of, we have always been here and we are still here!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Local ankle biter

    I just wanna remind everyone that only Indigenous people can be Two-Spirit! I don't want to see any non-natives saying they're two spirit. I just wanna remind everyone that only Indigenous people can be Two-Spirit! I don't want to see any non-natives saying they're two spirit.

  6. 5 out of 5

    the.between.lines

    !! extremely interesting

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alex Dash

    Well researched and comprehensive but wordy and too many claims without evidence. Still, very good.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kimba Stahler

  10. 4 out of 5

    Río Amani

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael Johnson

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kendra KB.HG

  13. 5 out of 5

    Meghan J.

  14. 5 out of 5

    J.W.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Onyáhte White-Eye

  16. 5 out of 5

    Abbott

  17. 5 out of 5

    Waasmowin-Mnidoo

  18. 5 out of 5

    ⚧️ Nadienne Greysorrow ⚧️

  19. 5 out of 5

    Quin Rich

  20. 5 out of 5

    Christel Bullock

  21. 4 out of 5

    Priyanka

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ahreanna

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joan

  24. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  25. 4 out of 5

    Meghan Boehmer

  26. 4 out of 5

    Violet

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chris Otto

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jules

  29. 4 out of 5

    Written Melodies

  30. 5 out of 5

    Holly Peters

  31. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

  32. 5 out of 5

    katherine boykin

  33. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

  34. 4 out of 5

    Bria Vaz

  35. 4 out of 5

    Colleen Margetich

  36. 5 out of 5

    Taryn | Mentally Booked

  37. 5 out of 5

    Brechae’

  38. 4 out of 5

    Martyna

  39. 5 out of 5

    Hope Johnson

  40. 4 out of 5

    Tya C.

  41. 4 out of 5

    Lex with the Text (Alexis Sims)

  42. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Zutter

  43. 4 out of 5

    Madie

  44. 5 out of 5

    Jesse Garcia

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