Two Spirits Better than One


In "Two Spirits Better than One" in the Gay City News (2007), Christopher Murray interviews Harlan Pruden.

After a review of what Two Spirit is, Pruden talks about the roles of Two Spirit people.

In many traditions, two-spirit people served their community as mediators, social workers, craftspeople, name-givers, shamans and/or medicine-givers. These roles were something that only a two-spirit person could fulfill - that's why they were viewed as another gender.I find it very interesting that this tradition came into being for a number of reasons. It is an obvious manifestation of native peoples' practice of preserving and considering diversity sacred. For many [native] nations there was always room at the table for everyone - it was the belief that differences were a strength and were needed for the community to thrive. The other major distinction for today's world was indigenous people viewed everyone as equal. Therefore, it was not a threat or unusual for a male to act like a female or a female to act like a male or in any manner on a broad spectrum.

In the interview, Pruden is asked about an upcoming event.

NE2SS is hosting a community forum to increase the visibility of the Native American community that will examine the topics of gender, sexuality, and our elders. Heavy on the elder stuff - 'cause we are all going to be old one day! We Native Americans have a well-defined and working elder system. At the forum we are going to share some of the inner workings of that system, for we believe that the LGBT community has much to learn about the treatment of older people.

When asked about prioritizing projects, Pruden provides more insight into Naive worldview.

You are responsible. You would never hear a native person following tradition say, "Oh, that's not my job." I hear that all the time here in New York and go kind of crazy. Of course it's your job. It's everybody's job. That being said though, it goes back to that respect for diversity. Each of us has a special gift. The community will help you discover that gift and then those are the issues or responsibilities that one pursues.

In closing, Pruden talks about the relationship between Two Spirit and Non Native people.

Because of the sheer magnitude of the genocide committed by Euro-Americans against our people, it is easier to pretend we don't exist than to actually examine the issue. ... First of all, an acknowledgment that we exist - and not for just one week or one month a year. According to the US Census, New York City is home of the largest population urban Indians in the country, if we were a reservation we'd be the third largest in the country. Next, we need to always be at the table. You need to learn about our differences and respect them... But I think the most important thing that any community or movement can learn from us is to respect the diversity - again! We don't always see that even in the LGBT and/or other people of color movements and it is critical to our survival. We know all about assimilation. White people have been trying to assimilate us since the 19th century. "Kill the Indian, save the man" was a popular phrase amongst 19th century progressives. Melting pots and assimilation are not good. We want the greater LGBT community to recognize and respect that is not only what we believe but also how we will act.

Read the full article on Christopher Murray's blog: "Two Spirits Better than One" by Christopher Murray with Harlan Pruden.