Happy Native American Heritage Month!
Happy Native American Heritage Month!

Happy Native American Heritage Month!

This month we are honoring and celebrating the diverse cultures, histories, and contributions of Indigenous peoples in the United States. Native American Heritage Month was established by a government resolution on May 24,1990 noting Native people’s “essential and unique contribution to our Nation.” As the original inhabitants of the lands that now constitute the United States of America, we recognize and honor the Indigenous peoples who owned these lands before us. 

There are 573 federally recognized Indian Nations in the US, nine of those tribes are located in Oregon. Many more tribes, to this day, are fighting for federal recognition.  Many continue to fight to protect their ways of life, their people, and their land.

Central Oregon is the traditional territory of the Columbia River Tribes (Wasco [Chinookan], Tenino, Tygh, Wyam, and John Day [Sahaptin]) who came south from the Columbia River on seasonal rounds to gather, hunt, and fish. These lands were also the traditional lands of the Wascoes, the Warm Springs, and the Paiutes. Today, Wasco, Warm Springs, and Paiute peoples live on in our region and are recognized as The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. 

OUT Central Oregon also recognizes our queer Native American and Alaskan Native members. We acknowledge the sacred meaning of “Two-Spirit” within indigenous cultures, signifying individuals who embody both masculine and feminine qualities. 

“Two-spirit” is a term used in some Indigenous cultures in North America to describe a person who embodies both masculine and feminine qualities, both in terms of gender identity and often in their societal roles and responsibilities. In the queer community we represent “two-spirit” as the “2S” found in the LGBTQ2S+ acronym. The term, “two-spirit” varies among different Indigenous tribes and nations, and there are diverse Indigenous cultures across North America, each with its own understanding of gender and identity. Therefore, it’s important to recognize that the term “two-spirit” is not universal and may have different meanings and roles in different Indigenous communities.

The term “two-spirit” itself is a relatively recent construct and was coined in the 1990s by Myra Laramee (Fisher River Cree) during the third annual Native American/First Nations Gay and Lesbian Conference in Winnipeg, Canada. It was adopted as an umbrella term to encompass the various traditional gender roles and identities found among Indigenous peoples and to provide a way for Indigenous LGBTQ+ individuals to identify and express their unique gender and cultural identities.

When using the term “two-spirit” to promote inclusivity and cultural awareness, we should remember the following:

  1. Respect Diverse Identities: Recognize that the concept of two-spirit is not the same in every Indigenous culture. Different tribes and nations may have their own words, roles, and understandings of gender diversity. Avoid generalizing or making assumptions about what the term means for all Indigenous people. 
  1. Cultural Sensitivity: Approach discussions about two-spirit identities with cultural sensitivity and humility. Seek guidance and knowledge from Indigenous individuals and communities to better understand the specific traditions and values related to gender diversity in their culture. 
  1. Avoid Appropriation: Be mindful not to appropriate or misuse the term “two-spirit.” It is a sacred and meaningful concept within Indigenous cultures, and it should not be appropriated or exploited for non-Indigenous purposes.
  1. Use Correct Terminology: When referring to specific Indigenous gender identities, use the appropriate terms and names as recognized by the respective tribes or nations. Some Indigenous communities may use other terms to describe similar gender roles, and it’s important to respect and honor these designations.
  1. Respect Individual Perspectives: Remember that two-spirit individuals, like anyone else, have individual experiences and identities. Avoid making assumptions or imposing stereotypes.
  1. Educate and Raise Awareness: Promote education and awareness about two-spirit identities and Indigenous cultures to foster understanding and respect. Encourage conversations and initiatives that support the rights and well-being of two-spirit individuals and Indigenous communities.

As you explore our beautiful Central Oregon landscape and interact with our beautiful Indigenous community members, never forget that the mountains we know now had different names. The rivers we paddle and fish flowed in different ways and the trails we walk have been walked for centuries. 
To learn more about the land you live on and about those who came before you, visit The Museum at Warm Springs and The Confederated Tribe of Warm Springs. You can also Explore this map of native lands and languages around the world.