Indigenous North Americans had their own ideas of gender before Christians colonized their way of life. They did not limit themselves to two gender concepts: a man and a woman but in fact had three other ideas of gender!
During the Age of Discovery, indigenous North Americans were more advanced than the colonizing Europeans in their understanding of gender and gender roles, at least before colonial powers imposed their binary Christian vision onto this native people. Their belief in Two Spirits was light-years ahead of it’s time in relation to gender equality issues discussed today.
Two-Spirits is a generic term used by certain indigenous North American communities to describe people that don’t fit into the traditional binary notion of gender as dictated by western civilization. Native Americans had five different genders: female, male, two-spirited female, two-spirited male and transgender.
In indigenous North American societies people of all genders lived in harmony and without any gender discrimination. Children were dressed in neutral clothing so that they could decide on their own which gender they wanted to identify with. This idea was possible as for Native Americans sexuality was irrelevant. Instead people were defined by their role in the community and what skills they could bring.
Two-spirited people were very respected by the community as they could undertake both “female” and “male” roles. Considered as a great asset, they were believed to have an increased understanding of the world as they could see it through the eyes of both a woman and a man. Many two-spirited people were given positions of responsibility such as shamans, doctors and marriage counselors due to their heightened understanding of the world.
History books still remember some of the well-known two-spirited people. Kaúxuma Núpika, nicknamed the “Man-Women” was part of the Kootenay tribe in Canada and was alive during the start of the 19th century. David Thompson and John Franklin owe a lot to the indigenous people who helped them write the maps of the New Land and both recounted stories of their meetings with Kaúxuma Núpika in their diaries.