Two Spirit Traditions

November 23, 2022

Two Spirit Traditions

Two-spirit individuals were experts in traditional arts - such as pottery making, basket weaving, and the manufacture and decoration of items made from leather. Among the Navajo, two-spirit males often became weavers, usually women and men's work, as well as healers, which was a male role. By combining these activities, they were often among the wealthier members of the tribe. Two-spirit females engaged in activities such as hunting and warfare, and became leaders in war and even chiefs. 

"This is the first gallery exhibition that highlights the role of Two Spirit people in traditional Native American society and includes the extremely rare work of the two best known 19th Century two spirit artists, We’wha and Arroh-ah-och, along with contemporary Two Spirit artists.

Prominent in this exhibition are a Zuni ceramic bowl circa 1880 attributed to We’wha (1849 - 1896) the well-documented Two Spirit artist and a Laguna ceramic attributed to Arroh-ah-och, a Two Spirit ceramicist in Laguna also active at the end of the 19th century" (We'wha and the Two Spirit Tradition, Then and Now)

Two Spirit History

Adopted in 1990 in Winnipeg, Canada. In place of the French word (berdache). Two spirit describes the Identity of traditional roles in certain tribes. The sexually uninhibited beliefs of American Indians were shamed and deemed barbaric and at god’s mercy if they did not stop immediately.

Even with the modern adoption of pan-Indian terms like two spirit, not all cultures will perceive two spirit people the same way, or welcome a pan-Indian term to replace the terms already in use by their cultures.

Two spirit roles, in particular, were singled out for condemnation, interference, and many times violence. As a result, two spirit traditions and practices went underground or disappeared in many tribes.