Gregory D. Smithers discusses his new book with Raven E. Heavy Runner
Sexuality, Spiritual Renewal & Sovereignty in Native America
Published by Beacon Press
Reclaiming Two-Spirits decolonizes the history of gender and sexuality in Native North America. It honors the generations of Indigenous people who had the foresight to take essential aspects of their cultural life and spiritual beliefs underground in order to save them.
Before 1492, hundreds of Indigenous communities across North America included people who identified as neither male nor female, but both. They went by aakíí’skassi, miati, okitcitakwe or one of hundreds of other tribally specific identities. After European colonizers invaded Indian Country, centuries of violence and systematic persecution followed, imperiling the existence of people who today call themselves Two-Spirits, an umbrella term denoting feminine and masculine qualities in one person.
Drawing on written sources, archaeological evidence, art, and oral storytelling, Reclaiming Two-Spirits spans the centuries from Spanish invasion to the present, tracing massacres and inquisitions and revealing how the authors of colonialism’s written archives used language to both denigrate and erase Two-Spirit people from history. But as Gregory Smithers shows, the colonizers failed—and Indigenous resistance is core to this story. Reclaiming Two-Spirits amplifies their voices, reconnecting their history to Native nations in the 21st century.
Gregory D. Smithers is professor of American history and Eminent Scholar at Virginia Commonwealth University and a British Academy Global Professor at the University of Hull in England. His research focuses on Cherokee and Southeastern Indigenous history, as well as gender, sexuality, racial and environmental history. His books include Native Southerners: Indigenous History from Origins to Removal and The Cherokee Diaspora: An Indigenous History of Migration, Resettlement, and Identity. Follow him at gregorysmithers.com and on Twitter
Raven E. Heavy Runner, MSW, (Blackfeet) is one of the many Two Spirit voices in the western United States, reclaiming a tradition that European colonization had nearly extinguished among Native Americans. Raven’s personal journey as a board school attendee, Rural reservation child, Seattle Street Kid, U.S. Army Veteran, LGBTQ activist, and college graduate led him to believe he was something else besides just a gay Indian, and he began truly studying the cultures that he lived in. While getting involved in theatre, he also began learning about being a Two-Spirit. Raven’s role has been as a scholar, an ambassador across cultures, and an important voice in Native communities as he helps to restore indigenous values that emphatically do not include homophobia. Raven is currently social worker with the Muckleshoot Tribe in Washington State, and he continues to be active in the revival of Two Spirit awareness nationwide.
This event was made possible by support from the City Lights Foundation