Statement on Our Stories, OUT West, Home on the Range.

While we celebrate the finding of our people amongst the cowboys and cowgirls in the old west we remember with great sadness that one of the main reasons that they were able to live out the cowboy life was at the expense of, the slaughter of and the removal of the original inhabitants of the land.

We have always held that if a people do not know where they come from they can not know where they are now or where they are going. Part of our adult life in the queer liberation movement and for the past 30+ years we have been doing whatever we can to bring to light the hidden stories of queer/lgbt people. Those stories that have been denied, supressed omitted and erased.  Breaking out of the straight jackets that have been forced on our people, finding all of those who have been scattered, and buried, and exposing the truth about our lives and who we were/are is a noble goal. We thank our lucky stars that we have such outstanding historians amongst us who have been working diligently over these years to do just that. To bring our stories back to our people. To help us stand tall and proud, to take back what is ours and that which straights have stolen from us. We explore and we find all the places that we have existed before Mr. Straight decided that we should only find ourselves between the lines. Those lines are brought out into the fresh open air and all of the world is refreshed.

One January 1st this blog published a piece about an exhibition at the Autry Museum in LA. The show’s title is OUT WEST and it traces the history, or what is known so far about homosexual and transgender cowboys and girls out west. We felt it very important to publish this piece of information so anyone who came upon this blog could read about a place where not many people would even believe that we existed. The Autry must be applauded for bringing our people out of the cowboy/cowgirl closet and into the day light.

But we must ask is this enough? Can we leave it at that? A simple question would be that amongst all those slaughtered for that Home On The Range how many were our people too. We know from our stories that we were there living within the tribes as the two-spirits.

“All tribes were aware of the existence of two-spirit people, and each still has a name for them. The Dinéh (Navaho) refer to them as nàdleehé one who is ‘transformed’, the Lakota (Sioux) as winkte, the Mohave as alyha, the Zuni as lhamana, the Omaha as mexoga, the Aleut and Kodiak as achnucek, the Zapotec as ira’ muxe, the Cheyenne as he man eh.  This abundance of terms testifies to the familiarity of Native Americans with gender-variant people. For proof of the sacred role they held, and hold, in Native society we again turn to Native sources. Terry Calling Eagle, a Lakota man, recounts: “Winktes have to be born that way. People know that a person is going to become a winkte very early in his life. At about age twelve parents will take him to a ceremony to communicate with past winktes who had power, to verify if it is just a phase or a permanent thing for his lifetime. If the proper vision takes place, and communication with a past winkte is established, then everybody accepts him as a winkte.” (1)

2009-10-26-1TwoSpiritsNavajosamesexcouple.jpg

 Navho Same Sex Couple

All day though I have been haunted. I have felt like something is standing behind me, watching me, staring at me. It just hasn’t felt right. You know that odd sick feeling the one you just can’t shake. I know that, yes, we can celebrate or say, we where there out in the wild west but we also must ask at what price? At what price and to whom? My mind raced to those who had lived on the plains, in the forests, by the rivers, in the mountains. Who had for thousands of years lived on this continent and who were virtually destroyed by the white settlement and the push to the west and then onto reservations of extreme poverty, sickness and disease. I read an article written by Ruth Schienin as posted below about a Colonel Chivington, Methodist minister who dedicated himself to “eliminating the presence of any living Indian.” I cried again when I thought about the forced march in the winter of 1838, a thousand mile march that resulted in the death of approximately 4,000 Cherokees on what is known as the Trail of Tears. We know that between 1860 and 1900 several million U.S. settlers moved west of the Mississippi. By contrast there were fewer than 200,000 native peoples remaining on the Great Plains by 1900. The government would do anything to get these people out-of-the-way and more times than not they murdered them in masses.

The only good Indian is a dead Indian” became a popular slogan in the late 1800’s. And those “blankets for your land” filled with smallpox wiping out the tribes so nobel, so Christian.  To read of places such as Sand Creek and the slaughter of men, women and children holding the flags of peace, by blood thirsty soldiers in Colorado’s Third Regiment is to fully see that the white settlers had one thing on their mind, to exterminate and end the “Indian Problem.” But to read of the victories of the Sioux led by Chief Red Cloud in Montana and Wyoming that forced the U.S. military to abandoned all of its outposts on the Boxeman trail fills us with joy. Of course after this great victory the white settlers, ever the savage, undercut the treaty almost immediately and destroyed herds of buffalo and changed the very condition that allowed the Sioux exclusive access to the territory.

 

Chief Red Cloud

The extermination of the buffalo was another form of exterminating the Plains Indians.  When the buffalo disappeared the way of life of the Plains Indians disappeared because the buffalo was essential for survival. A sport at the time was the shooting of the buffalo from passing trains. A huge market opened up for the hides of the buffalo and most of the meat was left to rot on the plains. Skulls were often ground into fertilizer. Check out this photo from the mid-1870s of a pile of Bison skulls.

 

“What treaty that the whites have kept has the red man broken? Not one. What treaty that the white man has ever made with us have they kept? Not one. When I was a boy the Sioux owned the world; the sun rose and set on their land, they sent ten thousand men to battle. Where are the warriors today. Who slew them? Where are our lands? Who owns them?….Sitting Bull

 

 Sitting Bull

Again let us say, while we celebrate the finding of our people amongst the cowboys and cowgirls in the old west we remember with great sadness that one of the main reasons that they were able to live out the cowboy life was at the expense of, the slaughter of and the removal of the original inhabitants of the land.

Notes:

1. Two Spirits:

These individuals were sometimes viewed in certain tribes as having two spirits occupying one body. Their dress is usually a mixture of traditionally male and traditionally female articles. They have distinct gender and social roles in their tribes.

Two-spirited individuals perform specific social functions in their communities. In some tribes male-bodied two-spirits held specific active roles which, varying by tribe, may include:

  • healers or medicine persons
  • gravediggers, undertakers, handling and burying of the deceased (Bankalachi, Mono, Yokuts)
  • burial festivities (Achomawai, Atsugewi, Bankalachi, Mono, Tübatulabal, Yokuts, Oglala Lakota, Timucua)
  • conduct mourning rites (Yokuts)
  • conduct sexual rites
  • conveyers of oral traditions and songs (Yuki)
  • nurses during war expeditions (Cheyenne, Achomawi, Oglala Lakota, Huchnom, Karankawa, Timucua)
  • foretold the future (Winnebago, Oglala Lakota)
  • conferred lucky names on children or adults (Oglala Lakota, Papago)
  • weaving and basketry (Zuni, Navajo, Papago, Klamath, Kato, Lassik, Pomo, Yuki)
  • made pottery (Zuni, Navajo, Papago)
  • made beadwork and quillwork (Oglala Lakota, Ponca)
  • matchmaking (Cheyenne, Omaha, Oglala Lakota)
  • mediator between lovers or married persons (Navajo)
  • made feather regalia for dances (Maidu)
  • special skills in games of chance
  • ceremonial roles during and leading scalp-dances (Cheyenne)
  • fulfilled special functions in connection with the Sun Dance (Crow, Hidatsa, Oglala Lakota)

In some tribes female-bodied two-spirits typically took on roles such as:

  • chief, council
  • trader
  • hunter, trapper, fisher
  • warrior, raider
  • guides
  • peace missions
  • vision quests, prophets
  • medicine persons

For some interesting and enlightening reading see Ruth Schiein’s The Rhetoric of Extermination: Scapegoating the Plains Indian in the 19th Century.

4 Responses to “Statement on Ourstories by AFQOTP”

  1. rowlandkeshena Says:
    January 2, 2010 at 2:52 am| Reply   editExcellent piece queerartistOne of the primary tools of the North American colonial enterprise was the imposition of heteropatriarchy on the Onkwehonwe cultures of the continent who largely existed in alternative social forms.Not only did you have some nations, such as the Six Nations Haudenosaunee Confederacy, where women, not men, were the real holders of political power in society, but you also had the pretty well across the board recognition and respect of Two-Spirited people, who as you rightly pointed out fulfilled any number of important roles in our societies.

    We lost so much with the imposition of the institutionalized Christian Church and its mandatory heteropatriarchial gender and family norms, something which we are only now beginning to reclaim, along with the rest of our cultures.

    One thing though that we have to watch out for is modern cultural appropriation. As both an Onkwehonwe person and an LGBTI-Q person I cannot tell how many times I have met white queers who insist on labelling themselves as Two-Spirited. They treat it as some sort of simple synonym for “queer,” totally removing the cultural context, and indeed sacredness, of the term. It is part of a larger cultural trend in white society to see Native “things” as fashion accessories and in turn appropriates our culture and strips it of meaning.

    Again though, excellent article, keep up the good work.

  2. queerartist Says:
    January 2, 2010 at 2:21 pm| Reply   editThank you Rowland.How bold of white queers to even begin to think that they would ever be able to be Two-Spirited. Don’t think that most, if any of them could handle the job. Two-spirit are born that way, grow that way and are that way. No putting on. Important here is the vision quest, the connection with a Two-Spirt of the past never just some book read person or or a dress up with an article of clothing that one puts on.Looking forward to your essay.
  3. Buffalo Soldier 9 Says:
    January 3, 2010 at 8:18 pm| Reply   editHow do you keep a people down? ‘Never’ let them ‘know’ their history.Keep telling that history; read some great military history.The 7th Cavalry got their butts in a sling again after the Little Big Horn Massacre, fourteen years later, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. If it wasn’t for the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, there would of been a second massacre of the 7th Cavalry. Read the book, “Rescue at Pine Ridge”, and visit website/great military history, http://www.rescueatpineridge.com
  4. Okie Indian Says:
    January 3, 2010 at 10:14 pm| Reply   editExcellent article, but need to clarify a couple of things. Col Chivington was NOT a Methodist minister, but an informal “lay leader”. Several years ago, the Oklahoma Indian Mission Conference presented this matter at a General Council meeting of church leaders, who then made a formal apology to the Cheyenne & Arapaho peoples for the actions of this seriously misguided man pretending to be a man of God. We have close friends who are descendants of the survivors of this massacre.Many “sins” are committed against the “enemy of the day” including Native Americans as well as GLBT people. There will never be movies made about the tens of thousands of immigrants who lived in peace with their Indian neighbors & friends, or those who married into or were adopted into tribes. It’s still that way here in Oklahoma today, barring the racist hold-outs. People are people, much the same everywhere.Tears over past transgressions can cleanse the spirit, but bitterness can destroy it. The most important thing to understand is that we are all children of the same Creator, who intended for us to love one another. Christ came to earth not to condemn us, but to teach us to treat one another with love & respect. It is man’s religion & politics that has twisted His message into something else. Aho!

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