TSF: Talking Two-Spirit


When: Thursday, February 25, 2016 from 1:00pm – 4:00pm

Presenter/Moderater: Harlan Pruden

Panelists: Byron Chief-Moon, Quanah Napoleon, Brian Solomon, and Michelle Sylliboy

“Two-Spirit conversations exploring the history of the Two-Spirit traditions and a panel discussion of distinguished Two-Spirit performers sharing how their identity influences their art” (Full Circle, 2016)

The discussion started out with a presentation by Harlan Pruden on two-spirit people. Pruden discussed where the term comes from and colonial documentation of two-spirit people. He then went on to talk about the role two-spirit people have in Indigenous communities, as well as the different Indigenous names for “two-spirited”.

After a short break, there was then a panel discussion with four two-spirit performers on how their art is influenced by their two-spirit identity.


“Two-Spirited” is a relatively new term for me. I had first heard to term to refer to Indigenous trans-gendered people, but I have also heard non-Indigenous transgender people calling themselves two-spirited. It always felt little bit like some sort of appropriation was going on when I would hear a non-Indigenous person call themselves “two-spirited”, but being not being trans or Indigenous, I have never felt it was my place to have an opinion on it. My brother is a trans-man, I can remember asking him about the term. He said that he does not know too much about it, but he has definitely heard a lot of white people in the trans community referring to themselves as two-spirited.

I found this presentation and discussion to very helpful in understanding the term. Pruden was able to clarify that two-spirited does not just mean trans, but it is a role and identity that has been highly respected throughout many Indigenous communities. Therefore, for a non-Indigenous, trans person to call themselves “two-spirited” is not only incorrect, but disrespectful by failing to acknowledge this Indigenous identity that colonialism has tried so hard to destroy.

I also really enjoyed listening to the four different artists and what it means for them to be two-spirited as performers. I felt very honoured at how honest they were with what they discussed with us and their journeys as two-spirited artists.

3 thoughts on “TSF: Talking Two-Spirit”

  1. Thank you for sharing Meggan! I too attended this talk with little knowledge of the term ‘two-spirited’. I thought I knew the definition of the term and it’s meaning, but not to the extent needed. When I first was told about the term it was described to me as an indigenous person who doesn’t identify as heterosexual. That was it. No detail and no further explanation. It was really interesting to hear the term described for what it truly was. I hadn’t realized the importance of the word, and the responsibility that comes with calling yourself two-spirited. I am excited to share my knowledge of the word now, and its true meaning and importance.

  2. Megan, I enjoy your witnessing statement where you revisit your own notions of “Two-Spirit” within contemporary Western society. I find it particularly interesting that the “Talking Two-Spirit” discussion did not localize this concept within Indigenous feminisms – although the moderator did acknowledge that UBC’s Institute of Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice admitted him as a doctoral candidate. I find this strange, as a GRSJ alumni, that Indigenous feminism wasn’t discussed as “the institute”/GRSJ (formerly called “Women’s and Gender Studies”) wants to incorporate Indigenous perspectives into their pedagogy – and, from what I know, Indigenous feminisms have paved the way for reconceptualizing gender roles and practices as being an extension of colonialism. In Indigenous Feminist pedagogy, the idea is that female, male and Two-spirit gender roles are all inherently equal – rather than Western pedagogy where women want to obtain the same status as men in society.

  3. Thank you Meggan,

    I wish I could have been to this talk. I wonder about the pan-indigenous application of “two-spirit” and if there is a damaging aspect to this (similar to the way it is appropriated by non-indigenous people). What I mean is, I wonder if using this term so broadly can give the false idea that all indigenous people are open and accepting of those who do not go by the gender binary, and if that is a bad thing?

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