During the chaos of the past 460 years since De Soto
invaded our lands, Cherokee Two-Spirits have been
largely erased and hidden. It's as if the story of who
we are and our place in the world was woven into a
beautiful wampum belt. And then
hate's long knives
white beads flew
Beads scattered into
into feet-bloodied paths
high in caves
by the escaped
We've internalized unbalanced power relationships
between men and women, between Two-Spirit people and
others. Our work as Two-Spirit Cherokees is to mend
these relationships and aid our communities in
healing. We must weave the pieces of our story back
Given the brutal history of the past several hundred
years, it should come as no surprise that many Cherokees
have tried to suppress Two-Spirit people and histories,
or that many Cherokee Two-Spirits struggle with making
sense of who we are within our tribal traditions.
Sometimes all we have left are fragments.
But sit still.
Look: four white beads there in your right hand,
three purple beads here in mine.
We can travel back over
Some of us have large pieces of the belt.
Some of us only have scraps of singed deerskin.
But we begin
Come on all you Cherokee Two-Spirits!
We are assembled here to continue
Each of us
has a piece.
TAL'/TWO: DAKSI, DAKSI, DAKSI ALEGWUI/ COME ON ALL YOU
Crickets hum a heartbeat rhythm under a hot Oklahoma
night. Women wearing turtle shell or milk can leg
shackles are called to dance. The figures of women are
silhouetted against the light of the sacred fire,
answering the call.
At the Stomp Dance, we are called to the fire to sing,
to dance, to honor Creation. It is part of men's
responsibilities to sing songs, and women's
responsibilities to shake shells. Stomp Dances cannot
take place without shell shakers: our lifeways are
dependent on them. Brian Joseph Gilley's book
Becoming Two-Spirit: Gay Identity and Social Acceptance
in Indian Country mentions the fact that some
male-embodied Two-Spirit Cherokees are shaking shells as
a reflection of their place within ceremonial
communities and traditions (141-143, 2006). At this
particular time in our history Cherokee Two-Spirit
people of all genders are calling each other out of
hiding, out of the confines of white notions of who we
are. We are being called to take our place within our
communities, to "shell shake" our traditions in order to
restore duyuktv. The responsibilities we have as
male-embodied Two-Spirit Cherokees—to sustain our
lifeways and cultures—is like shell shaking. We have
the responsibility to restore and maintain duyuktv
through practicing Cherokee lifeways and ending
Two-Spirit liberation is part of a larger process of
decolonization. Many of the current conversations and
activism in both radical Queer and Trans communities as
well as mainstream GLBT movements tend to ignore the
colonial realities and contexts that are the center of
struggles for Two-Spirit people. As Native feminists
such as Beth Brant, Chrystos, and Andrea Smith have
pointed out, current systems of gender oppression and
homophobia in the Americas are part of ongoing
colonization and genocide against Native people.
Non-Native Queer movements often place sexuality and
gender as oppositional to heteronormative practices, and
with good reason. While similar politics certainly come
into play in Two-Spirit movements, the more central
argument that we are making is that our lives and
identities—including, but not limited to issues of
sexuality and gender—are integral to Indigenous
struggles for decolonization, self-determination, and
Taking this stance isn't a "mainstreaming" tactic, but
instead is a radical act against colonial mindsets and
empires that surround us, trying to dissolve our claim
on these continents. Two-Spirit people are not asking
our tribal communities to accept us as "just like"
straight gendered people. We are asking our communities
to remember who we, as nations, are. And, just as
importantly, we are asking our communities to imagine
who we want to be. Two-Spirit people can change patterns
in our communities that are damaging. We are looking to
our core values to imagine the places we should have in
our communities. Two-Spirit Cherokees are calling each
other out of shadows to participate in the rebalancing
of the world. And it is through living up to our
responsibilities as Cherokees, particularly as
Two-Spirits, that we "shell shake." We are insisting
that we have a place in the circle and that our lives
and work in the world is absolutely and uncompromisingly
necessary to the continuance of Cherokee traditions.
Daksi, daksi, daksi alegwui!
Come on all you shell shakers! Hurry!
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