Two spirits, one purpose 

Gay and lesbian American Indians look to the past to shape a better future on the reservation

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Barrios eventually found himself stuck between a contemporary tribal society that didn't want

much to do with gay people and a homosexual culture largely comprised of white men. Determined to find a better connection between his ancestry and lifestyle, he returned to the reservation in the 1990s and started reaching out to other indigenous gays, many of whom shared stories similar to his own.

click to enlarge Two spirits Magenta Marie Spinningwind, Storme Webber and Isaac Dowd stand together wearing orange tallow face paint. The paint signals that they have a prayer that needs answering. - BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • by Anne Medley
  • Two spirits Magenta Marie Spinningwind, Storme Webber and Isaac Dowd stand together wearing orange tallow face paint. The paint signals that they have a prayer that needs answering.

Around the same time, an indigenous gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersexed (GLBTQI) social movement was taking off on reservations throughout the country. Dubbed the two-spirit movement, members of the group aimed

to rebuild the social inclusiveness tribal societies held before colonialists imported Christian ideals about sexuality and gender.

Today, members of two-spirit societies across North America are drawing from indigenous tradition—based upon a foundation of live-and-let-live ideology and cooperation—to shape a future that doesn't discriminate against people based on gender expression or sexual orientation.

Two spirits still have a long way to go, of course. Fanning himself with an eagle feather—sacred among the Blackfeet—Barrios talks about the homophobia that still exists on the reservation. In fact, he was last assaulted about five years ago. Three men jumped him just a few miles from his Browning home.

"They kicked the shit out of me," Barrios says. "I had to crawl to my car I was so beat up."

After standing tall through years of insults and abuse, Barrios isn't about to stand down. And now the grand dame of Montana's Two Spirit Society is one among a handful of American Indians leading an effort to raise their voice in the community.

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