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Indigenous Encounters: Two-spirited people


The rising wave of discrimination and stigmatization of two-spirited people, gays, lesbians, transgender, and bisexuals is evident in many of the western societies. The level of disregard that people accord to this class of persons has reached alarming rates calling for proactive measures to help them out lest we lost a generation of innocent but self-determined individuals. Sex is a social construction of the society aimed to discriminate and classify persons based on their biological orientations. The choice to belong to any of the gender classes, male, female of transgender is a personal decision which anyone has a right to consider and each consideration be respected as it is. Denial of the right to belong to the society by one’s gender classification is a gross violation of the persons’ rights and freedoms (Driskill, 2004) of choice and association. Often do these occur, however, as societies and nations discriminating and meddling the rights and liberties of two-spirited persons

The dangers associated with these reactions against the two-spirited individuals are immense ranging from mental disorders to suicide. Should this happen? The answer to this question lies on whether or not the society will respect the rights and freedoms of the two-spirited individuals by respecting and cherishing their choices regarding their ways of life. Studies and experiential accounts denote the fact that the level of aggression, social violation, discrimination and stigmatization is immense on the two-spirited persons of the first nations/ the indigenous. The increasing levels of homophobia, social isolation and rejection by the society are the major causes of suicide and mental illnesses commonly witnessed among the indigenous two-spirited individuals (Driskill, 2004). Should we let this trend go on? Should we just sit down and watch the lives of our people violated and dragged to the grave too early? Certainly not. The first nations’ people can provide adequate and sustainable support to the two-spirited people amidst them through multi-thronged approaches targeting specific aspects. This is important in making certain that the lives of these individuals are made better and shaped for a sustainable future.

Two-spirited people and heterosexuals

Research points out to the fact that not all first nations people identify themselves as transgender, lesbians, gays or bisexuals also identify as two-spirited people. However, for those who do so, it must be understood that two-spirits is not just another term for GLBT but rather, another term which has been chosen carefully to describe the gender diversity of the traditional first people in any given society (Miranda, 2010). It espouses the fluid nature of the term gender concerning their gender and sexual identities as well as its interconnectedness with the traditional views of the world and spirituality. The term two-spirits are equally understood differently even among the respective two-spirited persons. For some, it is a representation of their distinct cultures and experiences as the first nations in different regions of the world. It symbolizes the loss of their traditional cultural systems which were lost due to colonization by foreigners, and who have now labeled them outcasts, considers their cultures backward and undesirable (Driskill, 2004). To them, it is a loss of respect and the unique ways in which gender and the cultures of nations are tied together.

Still, to some people, the term two-spirit refer to having two spirits (masculine and feminine) within the same individual. Owing to these variations in the definition and considerations of the aspect of two-spirits, the term can be considered fluid since it recognizes gender as a continuum which includes aspects such as identities, social roles played by individuals and their sexual orientations. Due to these observations, individuals identify as two-spirits because of three main reasons: their sexual preferences, gender roles, and identities.

Challenges facing indigenous two-spirited people

First nations’ two-spirited people experience a wide array of challenges living in societies which have since been highly invaded by foreigners who do not want to mind about their cultures and traditions which they adored so extensively. Suicide, mental illnesses and drugs abuse and addiction are among the key issues surrounding the lives and well-being of two-spirited persons. In this respect, therefore, it is necessary that steps be taken, not only by the government but also the societies and policy makers to enhance the lives of these important people and prevent them from death and loss.

First nations’ two-spirited people and suicide

In the year 2000, suicide was rated as highest cause of death among the first nations in Canada aged between 10 and 44 years. Of these, almost a quarter of the deaths were among the first nations occurred in youths aged between 10 and 19 years (Health Canada, 2005). The availability of different ways of committing suicides makes the enumeration of deaths classified as suicide very difficult. For instance, some suicide activities occur on the roads in the form of accidents and are usually classified as accidents. These anomalies in the classification of deaths resulting from suicides may lead to underestimation of the real number of suicidal activities occurring among the first nations. The British Columbia reported the death of 81 children and youths occurring due to suicide between 2003 and 2007. Of these deaths, 17 of them, representing 21 percent were aboriginals while 16 (representing 20 percent) were first nations. This is despite the fact that the aboriginal people in British Columbia constitute only 9 percent of the total population. The main causative factors for suicidal missions and attempts are two-fold according to Wilcox (2008). In the first nations, suicidality or the first manifestation of suicidal behavior is the most important risk factor pushing these people into suicidal missions. The main causes of suicide in the first nations who also identify as two-spirited are, among other issues, rejection and discrimination by the society.

Drugs and mental illnesses

Understanding the prevalence of suicide risks in two-spirited people

The term risk is defined as a qualitative characteristic, feeling or experience which increases the likelihood of occurrence of various events. Various factors are considered the risk factors to suicide in different people. Amongst the two-spirited first nations, the most common risk factors for suicide include cultural loss, oppression and oppressive actions, violence, etc. However, according to Miranda (2010), two-spirited first nations often experience a double risk owing to their being first nations and two-spirited. For these reasons, risk factors such as cultural oppression, heterosexism, and racism often have a double impact on them. For instance, the two-spirited female first nations experience sexism in a world that is male dominated and is considered a third type of oppression on them. Moreover, the transgender first nations also experience problems due to cissexism in the society which is the society’s assumption that all persons should behave, look and identify stereotypically as either feminine or masculine thus the risks associated with suicide


First nations are indigenous people in various societies whose cultures and manners of behavior are often interfered with by foreigners who also parade as colonizers. First nations view these intrusions are the erosion on their cultures and mannerisms thus interfering with their ways of life. The effects are felt doubly on first nations who are also two-spirited. As a result, various risks including suicide, mental illnesses, and drugs use and addiction threaten their existence. Oppression, cultural erosion, and social seclusion are considered the most pre-disposing factors to their increased suicidal characteristics.



Driskill, Q. (2004). Stolen from our Bodies: First Nations Two-Spirited/ Queers and the Journey   to a Sovereign Erotic. Studies in American Indian Literatures, 16(2): 50-64.

Health Canada. (2005). A statistical profile on the health of First Nations in Canada: For the year 2000. Ottawa: Author.

Miranda, D.A. (2010). Extermination of the Joyas: Gendercide in Spanish California. GLQ: A     Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 16(1-2): 253-284.

UNICEF. (2014). Eliminating discrimination against children and parents based on sexual            orientation and/ or gender identity. UNICEF Current Issues, 9, 1-6

Wilcox, M-E. (Ed.). (2008). “Looking for something to look forward to…” (a B.C. youth who        died by suicide): A five-year retrospective review of child and youth suicide in B.C.        Vancouver, BC: Child Death Review Unit, BC Coroners Service. Retrieved November         10, 2016 from <www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/coroners/child-deathreview/docs/cdru            suicidereportfull.pdf>