June 20, 2022

Two-Spirit People in Native American Cultures

In the summer of 1990, at the third annual Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the term Two Spirit was established. An English translation of the Northern Algonquin term niizh manitoag, Two Spirit describes masculine and feminine qualities within a single person. As a pan tribal term, Two Spirit both connected organizers across different Native nations and also helped them re-discover the traditional terminology used in their own cultural history.

Joining me to help us understand more about the Two-Spirit people is Dr. Gregory Smithers, a American history at Virginia Commonwealth University, and author of the new book, Reclaiming Two-Spirits: Sexuality, Spiritual Renewal & Sovereignty in Native America.

Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. Image Credit: “We-Wa, a Zuni berdache, full length portrait,” photographed between circa 1871 and circa 1907 by John K. Hillers, National Archives at College Park, Public domain.


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Gregory Smithers Profile Photo

Gregory Smithers

I am a professor of American history and Eminent Scholar (2019-2024) in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University. I received my Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Davis. I've taught in California, Hawaii, Scotland, and Ohio. I am currently a British Academy Global Professor, based in the Treatied Spaces research cluster at the University of Hull. .

My research and writing focuses on the histories of Indigenous people and African Americans from the eighteenth century to the present. I am particularly interested in the rich history of the Cherokee people, Indigenous history from the Mountain South to California and the Southwest Pacific, and environmental history. My work is devoted to narrating the past in ways that are publicly accessible and connect with issues of social justice, environmental sustainability, and racial and gender equity.