Before European Christians Forced Gender Roles, Native Americans Acknowledged 5 Genders

By Pearson McKinney | 19 June 2016
Bipartisan Report

We-Wa, a Zuni two-spirit, weaving. Both the Spanish settlers in Latin America and the English colonists in North America condemned them as “sodomites”.

It wasn’t until Europeans took over North America that natives adopted the ideas of gender roles. For Native Americans, there was no set of rules that men and women had to abide by in order to be considered a “normal” member of their tribe.

In fact, people who had both female and male characteristics were viewed as gifted by nature, and therefore, able to see both sides of everything. According to Indian Country Today, all native communities acknowledged the following gender roles: “Female, male, Two Spirit female, Two Spirit male and Transgendered.”

“Each tribe has their own specific term, but there was a need for a universal term that the general population could understand. The Navajo refer to Two Spirits as Nádleehí (one who is transformed), among the Lakota is Winkté (indicative of a male who has a compulsion to behave as a female), Niizh Manidoowag (two spirit) in Ojibwe, Hemaneh (half man, half woman) in Cheyenne, to name a few. As the purpose of “Two Spirit” is to be used as a universal term in the English language, it is not always translatable with the same meaning in Native languages. For example, in the Iroquois Cherokee language, there is no way to translate the term, but the Cherokee do have gender variance terms for ‘women who feel like men’ and vice versa.”

The “Two Spirit” culture of Native Americans was one of the first things that Europeans worked to destroy and cover up. According to people like American artist George Catlin, the Two Spirit tradition had to be eradicated before it could go into history books. Catlin said the tradition:

“Must be extinguished before it can be more fully recorded.”

However, it wasn’t only white Europeans that tried to hide any trace of native gender bending. According to Indian Country Today, “Spanish Catholic monks destroyed most of the Aztec codices to eradicate traditional Native beliefs and history, including those that told of the Two Spirit tradition.” Throughout these efforts by Christians, Native Americans were forced to dress and act according to newly designated gender roles.

One of the most celebrated Two Spirits in recorded history was a Lakota warrior aptly named Finds Them And Kills Them. Osh-Tisch was born a male and married a female, but adorned himself in women’s clothing and lived daily life as a female. On June 17 1876, Finds Them And Kills Them gained his reputation when he rescued a fellow tribesman during the Battle of Rosebud Creek. An act of fearless bravery. Below is a picture of Osh-Tisch and his wife.

Osh-Tisch (left) and his wife (right). Of all of the foreign life ways Indians held, one of the first the Europeans targeted for elimination was the Two Spirit tradition among Native American cultures.

In Native American cultures, people were valued for their contributions to the tribe, rather than for masculinity or femininity. Parents did not assign gender roles to children either, and even children’s clothing tended to be gender neutral. There were no ideas or ideals about how a person should love; it was simply a natural act that occurred without judgement or hesitation.

Without a negative stigma attached to being a Two Spirit, there were no inner-tribal incidents of retaliation or violence toward the chosen people simply due to the fact that individuals identified as the opposite or both genders.

“The Two Spirit people in pre-contact Native America were highly revered and families that included them were considered lucky. Indians believed that a person who was able to see the world through the eyes of both genders at the same time was a gift from The Creator.”

Religious influences soon brought serious prejudice against “gender diversity,” and so this forced once openly alternative or androgynous people to one of two choices. They could either live in hiding, and in fear of being found out, or they could end their lives. Many of whom did just that.

Imagine a world where people allowed others to live freely as the people nature intended them to be..without harm..without persecution..without shame. Imagine a world where we are truly free.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Pearson McKinney is a life-long outspoken liberal political activist, freelance writer, and Managing Editor of Bipartisan Report and Americans Against The Tea Party.

Native America before European Colonization

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18 COMMENTS

  1. First, there should never be violence against anyone simply on the basis of their preferred attractions. No one would deny that violence has been a reality in this space, both from the religious and non-religious. While such violence may be something not unexpected from the non-religious, those who claim to follow God should certainly know better. That said, we should be careful we don't stereo-type Christianity entirely simply on the basis of the failures of a subset among them. Tossing out the baby with the bathwater is hardly the right thing to do, though the simple-minded might ascribe to such an extreme.

    That God has made his gender standard clear as reflected in the Bible leaves little room for doubt. And while God, wanting to emphasize the gravity of disobedience, required capital punishment for those who violated His standard among his chosen people, Israel, doesn't give everyone the right to go around killing people similarly. God's standard still stands and always will – disobedience toward His standard is still disobedience and it will ultimately be judged by Him.

    If Judaism, and then Christianity, are merely inventions of men, then, sure, have as many gender variations as one can imagine. Who is to say otherwise. This is certainly the conclusion supported by the neo-Darwinian/naturalism worldview in which humanity is thought to be nothing more than the accidental byproduct of chemicals, time and random chance. On the other hand, if God actually is the God of the Bible, then it isn't "Christians" who ultimately own responsibility for the apparent gender constraints, but God. And if that's the case, providing examples of how other cultures have disobeyed God's standard is moot. Truth is the absence of variations, not the sum of them.

    • “God” didn’t make “his” gender standard in the bible! Men wrote the bits of the bible according to their own traditions and gender politics and claimed it was “god’s word”. There is a difference. Please accept the fact that the bible is a cultural artifact that has evolved over time, not something that suddenly appeared giving all wisdom about gender. Anyway, it is a series of myth-cycle and paternity documents from the middle east and thus has to be used as a source of wisdom for native americans (and any other colonised culture) in a highly selective way.

    • At what makes your ‘God’ correct? What about Zues? What about Krishna? All are gods. You think a book written by a bunch of backward zealots is worth following?

      A book full of misogyny, genocide, rape, and incest….

      There is no god, get over it, the world is moving on

  2. Christ was Truth as a Resurrection of Variance. The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker, they are all necessary in this thing called Life Here so that we can understand the price…Love, above all things, Love. This is a beautifully enlightening article about a culture once unhindered and now conformed, just like it was before The Passion. We are still learning what He meant when He commanded “Love One AnOTHER”.

    • Love exists without God, Gods or religion. Find it without a book of rules. Allow others to find it without instruction.

  3. Nancy and Brian: This article is highlighting how Christianity was forced upon us, and your response is to modify that original slight to fit your narrative. Again missing the point all together. Just because this worldview is the only one you prescribe to, doesn’t mean you should continue to perpetuate this upon us. This isn’t your space. This isn’t your place to take over. This kind of ignorance is a form of violence, and frankly I’m tired of it. Sometimes, to be an ally, you must learn to be quiet, and let those who are victims speak. Allow us to occupy our space fully.

  4. Love your comments Lost Bird. Christianity and Colonisation decimated my culture also where now the Christian narrative has been adopted by my people as the norm. XXX

  5. Yet another article written to push hate onto christians, and Christ and God.

    “Christians forced gender roles”…. it’s not CHRISTIAN roles… women and men, regardless of religion or race, have ALWAYS had roles… it wasn’t something forced on people by chistians. It’s even in non Christian culture for women to be home keepers and men to work to care for his family. Nothing wrong with that.

    Long before Jesus Christ was ever born, roles were already in action. (Since it was before his birth, it can’t be a Christian thing)

    “no gender roles” then goes on to say “women who behaved like men , and men who showed women. Characteristics.”.. so really there are (nature given) gender roles or there wouldn’t be male behavior or female behavior.

    Isn’t it funny how only humans try to define gender?

    Animals are male or female. That’s it.

    Only humans have mental issues about gender.

    Dogs cats birds and all other animals, don’t fight what NATURE assigned to them.

    • You're welcome to your opinion but the point was that Christians forced THEIR OPINION on gender roles, identity, and orientation on people who were NOT Christian. They weren't allowed to be who they were any more. They had to follow the Christian rules or face harsh consequences.

      I don't expect you to accept the truth because to YOU the truth is nothing more than an attack on your religion and your god, but truth it is.

  6. Funny that it's Just Now we're learning about this, in the midst of a national push by the LGBTQHIVSTD community for everyone to accept a mental disorder as a "lifestyle" choice. Which leads me to believe that it is, like a lot of liberal schlock, just more liberal schlock. The Left has a long tradition of inventing crap whole cloth, then swearing that crap has a long tradition.

    While we're on the subject of those wondrous "Native" (not true, they invaded from the north and took over lands previously held by the Clovis People) Americans, let us remember they practiced slavery, almost endless internecine war, and were — for all intents and purposes — deeply stuck in the Stone Age.

    They barely had fire. They had no wheels and only got horses when the Evil White Spaniards brought them. They shit where they ate, treated women like chattel and almost all of their "medicine" is about getting so stoned you can't feel it anymore. Native Americans would put the elderly outside to die in the winter, if they were no longer useful to the tribe. And THESE are the people you want everyone to emulate?

    They were, by all possible standards, brutish cavemen who showed zero signs they would have advanced out of the stone age, even by today. Without Evil Whitie dragging them out of the death spiral they were on, anyway.

    So if indeed these "noble savages" DID have a completely backwards understanding of gender and nature, it is completely in keeping with the rest of their abysmal ways.

    • is anybody interested in tracking of STDs rate among clergy ? Or their sexual orientation?
      Does anyone realize that the name Europa was given to the continent by Romans after the conquest and , if it did have a distinct, specific name, it was certainly not from Greco-Roman mythology? How many people know that the original population of Europe was almost completely exterminated by the Romans and by the invading Germanic tribes, which later split into Angles ,Saxons, Franks? And that these invaders built themselves whole countries by stealing the achievements of earlier communities? Christian -European culture destroys every other culture in its path in a search of The Promised Land, armed with the militant religion . It looks as in the end , due to the lack of respect for others as well as nature, it will also destroy itself.

  7. i can never find love without my god and my religion, because my religion teaches me how to get love and peace in in life.

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