Two spirits, one purpose 

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

Page 5 of 7

Barrios beams as he talks about the history of the movement, and especially of Whe-Wa and Running Eagle.

"We were always there," he says.

And now he's determined to secure two spirit's place well into the future.

click to enlarge Two spirits pray next to the sacred fire in a Lubrecht Forest cabin. “Two-spirit people were not the evil people that they were once made out to be,” says Two Spirit Society creator David Herrera. “Instead, they were revered [historically on the reservation]. They were the medicine people, the caretakers.” - BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • by Anne Medley
  • Two spirits pray next to the sacred fire in a Lubrecht Forest cabin. “Two-spirit people were not the evil people that they were once made out to be,” says Two Spirit Society creator David Herrera. “Instead, they were revered [historically on the reservation]. They were the medicine people, the caretakers.”

John Hawk Co-Cke's father was a Methodist minister and his mother a Baptist. Both taught their children that American Indian culture is, in God's eyes, sinful.

That never sat well with Co-Cke. Growing up in Oklahoma, he played with pompoms and dolls. His brothers, embarrassed by him, asked Co-Cke to stay in the backyard and out of sight. As an adolescent, Co-Cke hungered to understand why he was different from his brothers and wanted to find other people who, like him, didn't fit in.

He left home, looking for a husband in Dallas' gay bars. Instead, he found booze, drugs and sex.

"I remember laying there and saying, 'There's got to be a better life than this,'" he says.

Co-Cke struggled to rid himself of an internal voice—perhaps a result of his religious upbringing—that told him he was an abomination. Alcohol quieted the voice for a while, but it inevitably came back louder than before.

"It's a sadness that nobody—you can't fill it," he says.

Co-Cke eventually stumbled upon the two-spirit concept. After being initially intrigued by the idea, he attended his first retreat in Oklahoma and was hooked. But as he started looking for more guidance and seeking two-spirit ancestors, he came up empty. Most died before being able to pass along their wisdom, Co-Cke says, leaving him to fill in the gap.

Co-Cke immersed himself in history, finding black and white photos of Whe-Wa spinning yarn and digging up stories of Running Eagle capturing horses and conquering Crow. Then the dreams came. He says his ancestors called him to lead the ones still lost.

Today, Co-Cke educates people about two-spirit history at gatherings throughout the country. He brings the black and white photos of Whe-Wa and the others wherever he goes.

"I want young ones to see this," he says.

His teachings also include telling other two-spirit people to sit in silence. That's when answers come, he says.

"The voice is patient and the old ones are patient," he says, "and they'll wait until you're ready."

Co-Cke and Barrios also sit in silence together. Specifically, they make their way to Running Eagle Falls in Glacier National Park whenever they get a chance. That's where Running Eagle's vision quest directed her to be a warrior, Barrios says. Co-Cke and Barrios leave medicine bundles—containing objects of spiritual significance—and pray to their ancestors at the site. The visits help Co-Cke advise other two-spirit people, as well as find balance in his own life.

  • Email
  • Print

More by Jessica Mayrer

  • Where to now?

    A prolonged fight over the Montana Developmental Center's future finally ended with the legislature voting to shut down the facility. The real challenge comes next, as dozens of at-risk patients seek new homes.
    • Sep 10, 2015
  • Kind of a big deal

    Behind-the-scenes moves give Riverfront Triangle new life
    • Jun 11, 2015
  • Hospital sale

    Win for low-income locals
    • Mar 26, 2015
  • More »

© 2016 Missoula News/Independent Publishing | Powered by Foundation