Two-Spirit

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Two-Spirit People (also Two Spirit or Twospirit) — an English term that emerged in 1990 out of the third annual inter-tribal Native American/First Nations gay/lesbian American conference in Winnipeg — describes Indigenous North Americans who fulfill one of many mixed gender roles found traditionally among many Native Americans and Canadian First Nations indigenous groups. The mixed gender roles encompassed by the term historically included wearing the clothing and performing the work associated with both men and women.

A direct translation of the Ojibwe term, Niizh manidoowag, "two-spirited" or "two-spirit" is usually used to indicate a person whose body simultaneously houses a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit. The term can also be used more abstractly, to indicate presence of two contrasting human spirits (such as Warrior and Clan Mother) or two contrasting animal spirits (which, depending on the culture, might be Eagle and Coyote). However, these uses, while descriptive of some aboriginal cultural practices and beliefs, depart somewhat from the 1990 purposes of promoting the term.

According to Brian Joseph Gilly, male berdachism "was a fundamental institution among most tribal peoples."[1] Will Roscoe writes that male and female berdaches have been "documented in over 130 tribes, in every region of North America, among every type of native culture."[2]

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Terminology

The term berdache is also used to indicate "two-spirit" individuals, but is increasingly considered outdated and inappropriate. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, 4th. ed., berdache is North American French, tracing back, through European French, Italian, Arabic, Persian, Middle Persian, and Old Iranian, to Proto Indo-European welƏ, "to strike, to wound"; making the term "berdache" a linguistic relative of such words as "Valhalla", "Valkyrie" and "vulnerable".

There are, in fact, many indigenous terms for these individuals in the various Native American languages — including Lakota winktje and Navajo nádleehí (Burrus & Keller, 2006: p. 73).[3]

Berdache is a generic term that was used primarily by anthropologists in the past (no longer an accepted concept or term within the field). It is a loan from French bardache implying a male prostitute or catamite. The word's origin is complex: the French derives from the Spanish bardaxa or bardaje / bardaja via Italian bardasso or berdasia via Arabic bardaj: البَرْدَجُ" meaning "captive, captured"[4] from Persian bardaj < Middle Persian vartak < Old Iranian *varta-, cognate to Avestan varəta- "seized, prisoner," formed from an Indo-European root *welə- meaning "to strike, wound."[5][6][7][8] The term berdache is widely considered offensive, due to its roots.

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