Two Spirit Society & Allies of North Dakota aims to improve life for LGBTQ people

Cardinal Red Bird has more than one story about the verbal abuse he listened to in his on-and-off stays on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in central North Dakota. “I was ridiculed and verbally harassed,” said Red Bird, who is president of the developing Two Spirit Society & Allies of North Dakota that is holding a kickoff event in Fargo this weekend. “I was ashamed for my people,” said the Bismarck man who knows the situation has improved since those days in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Yet he still worries. He took his address off one of the pamphlets explaining the mission of the organization after he learned of the racist and anti-Islam graffiti spray-painted on the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Center mosque last month. “I didn’t want to wake up some morning and find my garage door spray-painted,” Red Bird said. Red Bird explained Two Spirit as “people having both a male and female spirit within them and are blessed by their Creator to see life through the eyes of both genders.” He said the term has been present for countless generations, although different tribes use other phrases. He noted that a Two Spirit person isn’t necessarily gay. The Two Spirit Society’s vice president Will Little Owl, of Fargo, said he was more fortunate growing up on the reservation and wasn’t harassed, perhaps in part due to his protective family. He said his accepting family called him “special.” Little Owl believes life on the reservation for Two Spirit people and those in the LBGTQ community has improved, especially among the younger generation. Acceptance is still far from universal on the state’s five reservations. “I think the older generation has a more difficult time, which could be because of the religion that was forced upon them,” Little Owl said. For generations, Red Bird said, Two Spirit culture in Native American communities went underground to avoid detection and persecution. His hope is that Two Spirit people find “a rightful place in Native culture.”