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Two Spirits: Overlapping Identities for First Nations People

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It is a great honor and privilege to share my thoughts about the film Two Spirits. The first time I saw Two Spirits, I left the room and and cried when it was over. The story of Fred Martinez's life and death is a compelling story for so many reasons. Particularly the fact that the movie was the first time I have seen the story of Two Spirit people highlighted, front and center. I am grateful to the filmmakers and participants who brought Fred's story forward. I have great faith that his life will continue to provided us with so many opportunities for growth and cross community understanding.

My coming out story and experience is different from Fred's. I came out when I was older and I also lived in a city. Yet, there are also many similarities in our growing up experiences. I grew up in rural South Dakota on the reservation near towns just like the one Fred lived in when he died. These towns are called border towns because they border a reservation or are near a reservation. Border towns are mostly white and they are often sights of heightened hostilities between native and white communities.

I think one of the most important aspects of this story is the acceptance that Fred received from his family and community. In the beginning of the film it states, "This is the true story of a Navajo boy who was also a girl." As a Lakota person, my spirituality informs how I walk through the world. My spirituality has taught me that each person is on their own spiritual journey and we cannot judge someone else's path. I say all this because I see it reflected back to me in Two Spirits. Fred's family understood that he was different, they did not judge that. They relied on their traditional knowledge to accept and love him no matter what. In his own community, Fred was safe.

Native people experience high rates of violence, often at the hands of people outside their communities. Fred's presentation as a female challenged gender norms in a small rural town. I think the combination of presenting as female, challenging gender norms and being native is what made Fred more vulnerable to violence. This is often the case for those of us who live at the intersections with overlapping identities.

That is part of the gift of Fred's life. He provides an entry point to another aspect of this community. The memory we bring forth as First Nations people is of a time and way of life where LGBTQI folks were accepted. Fred's legacy goes beyond tacit racism and cultural appropriation because it provides us with an opportunity to see each other reflected in a range of common experiences including violence, targeting due to our sexual orientation and gender identity, living in small spaces of safety and being loved by family for who we are. These common experiences should challenge all of us to to see our connection more than our distance and differences. The legacy of Fred's life and the belief in our ancestors shouldn't just live in our memories, it should exist in our every day practice of patience, love, acceptance and non-judgement.

Pilamaya.

Around the Web

Two Spirits | Documentary on Navajo Teen Fred Martinez - PBS