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Stories from Two Spirit Nation
by Alicia Crosby

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Windy City Times had the privilege of interviewing some indigenous Two Spirit and non-indigenous LGBTQIA siblings at Standing Rock's Two Spirit Nation Camp.

The camp was established to give the indigenous Two Spirit and their queer, trans and gender-nonconforming allies a protected and sacred space to cultivate communal bonds within the larger Standing Rock community.

Much like the larger Oceti Sakowin Camp it was housed in, Two Spirit Nation drew individuals from all around the world who graciously shared their experiences as a means to elevate the concerns and perspectives of those who are too often marginalized and silenced. Here are some of their stories:

Name: DeLesslin aka Roo

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Age: 25

Current Location: Washington, D.C.

What drew you to Standing Rock?

I'm from the Catawba Indian Nation in South Carolina. We are people of the river so i felt strongly connected to this struggle, this prayer. The Catawba Indian Nation has lived along the Catawba River and, starting in 1904, some dams and powerplants started being planted along our river which polluted it. We can no longer fish there or get water from our river like we used to. My tribe is trying to find ways of combating that and heal the river. I just saw what was happening here and thought that this would be a great place to pray for the water and also to see ways of bringing that advocacy [present at Standing Rock] home to our reservation.

How did you hear about the Two Spirit Nation Camp?

So I'd seen it on Facebook but actually wasn't planning on coming to this camp. I was actually going to go to the international indigenous Youth Council because that's where I had connections. But at orientation my friend Rebecca, who Is an organizer in Baltimore and a member of the Cherokee Nation, suggested that I come to the Two Spirit Camp. I came over during their morning meeting when they were assigning tasks and I said I'll just help out; it sort of just evolved from there.

What has it meant for you to be a part of Two Spirit Nation?

I grew up in a very very very conservative environment in South Carolina going to this very conservative Christian School for 13 years so my sexuality and spirituality has been thoroughly condemned throughout most of my life.

Going to college, I found myself, but really within wider non-indigenous LGBTQIA communities. So coming here and being a part of the Two Spirit Community that's focused on indigenous people has been really healing. it's also opening up some wounds and showing me where I need to heal some more in the future. It's amazing how Candy ( the current Two Spirit Camp Leader ), the council members, and elders take care of this group—I've never seen anything like it before.

What has your participation been in the camp overall?

Mostly just labor, which I love doing. I just want to be as helpful as possible since I'm only here for such a short time. It's been really amazing because the leadership has done such a good job of making sure that things are really indigenous centered. On Thursday, all the council members were out and Jane Fonda comes up and says "I have some Thanksgiving food for you" and she was directed to me because I was the only Indigenous person around at the moment; it was such a small thing but it was amazing that they actually asked.

What has it meant for you to be in a place where your indigeneity and your sexual and/or gender identity were centered?

So I'm contrasting this with a conference that I went to in DC last week held by the Atlantic—it's the LGBTQ summit that they did. I walk in and it's almost entirely white men, presumably rich, discussing things that are relevant to them. That was a space where my identity was completely de-centered and I asked what is this incredibly rich community doing for queer youth on reservations. A lot of people don't know but a lot of indigenous communities have had to declare states of emergency because of the number of suicides the youth are attempting and we know that the majority of them are Two Spirit, or LGBTQIA, youth. So going from that space where I have to speak up, fight, and still be ignored to coming here where centering [Two Spirit} identity is exactly what they're doing has been important.

What do you feel that you'll carry with you from this space?

So my community has moved pretty far away from traditional ceremony and prayer; it's like 95-percent Mormon now. Being here and learning some of the ceremonies I know feel more in control of how I can keep my spirit healthy as well as that of the people around me and the land. I've been so thankful for how much I've been learning here because a lot of knowledge has been shared.

What do you think the wider LGBTQIA community could learn from the Two Spirit Community?

The thing that I really adore about Two Spirit spirituality is, for one, there's this narrative of progress in LGBTQ communities that says things are getting better and will if we just keep investing in the settler state. I really love my Two Spirit identity because it refocuses me and says to indigenous communities that this is not getting better, we're still in the middle of the many apocalypses that indigenous people have been facing. So I think that our knowledge of history and long memory are both really valuable and other LGBTQIA communities that don't have that connection with their histories because of colonization and diaspora. I also really appreciate Two Spirit spirituality because it's not just about the individual which is the discourse you see elsewhere; we're only Two Spirit because we're in community with the rest of our people. So that means as a Two Spirit person I can't stop fighting for the rights of my elders, the rights of my cousins and their children, my disabled relatives—it allows me to express myself and keep my community close.


Name: Rachel

Pronouns: She/They

Age: 28

Current Location: Maine

What drew you to Standing Rock?

My sweetie, their name is Lynn, came here a couple of months back and helped with building some of the first parts of Two Spirit Nation. They told me that it was a place I needed to see and a place where I could get some things done. I was really scared to come here for various reason but I was convinced by people in my life that this was good place to be and to be of service.

It's hard to justify doing something like this. It felt, at first, to be sort of frivolous; it isn't but it felt that way—like I was cheating in some way from "real" life and being a 'responsible" adult and all that. It was hard to realign to be a part of something bigger and to do what you can to help out. To be frank, there a lot of white people here and I feel like the indigenous folks are going through a ridiculous amount of emotional labor; anything I'm able to do to take something off their plates makes this worthwhile.

What has it meant for you to be a part of Two Spirit Nation?

I love this camp! Since I've been here I've felt the strongest sense of family that I've had in a long time. I came here without much in means of spirituality and being asked by the Lakota to be in prayer and be in ceremony every day and to do everything in prayer has really changed my perspective on that. I start every day with prayer, end everyday with prayer, and in my actions I've found myself stop rushing...and let myself get into [what I'm doing].

From the first days here, there have been offers of hugs, offers of space, offers of food and a sense of wanting to build a community. There's a sense of Two Spirit Nation being cohesive. We have our routines, we have our ways of doing things. I find it really calming to know that we have the leadership that we do and that when things do arise, they are dealt with in a very kind way.

What has your participation been in the camp overall?

The wider camp I haven't explored much as I'm not a fan of crowds; I've gone to things when there aren't a lot of people there. Camp is huge and there are so many things going on. Getting to hear the horses, the songs, the drums every night has been such a pleasure and an honor. Being so close to the medical tent means that I've taken better care of my health than I might have done otherwise. I've been to [Facebook] Hill and have really appreciated how everyone's been working together to get the word out.

What do you feel that you'll carry with you from this space?

The number one thing that I'll take back is that it's important to slow down. [It's important] to take things with time, take things with thought and really allow the heart to guide you versus letting the mind just rush. That's not something that i've put time into in my life and that's something that i will be taking back. [I'll also take] the connections I've made here and the importance of building community, the importance of building people up.

What do you think the wider LGBTQIA community could learn from the Two Spirit community?

One of the things that I really enjoy is that first indigneous voices are raised, then by the voices of [people of] color and then finally by white allies. Giving space to make sure that concerns are addressed in that way ensures that the people who need to step forward are given the space to do so and the people who need to step back are reinforced in that stepping back. I think that it's important that as we move forward we make sure that the voices that haven't been heard, are.


Name: Michal

Pronouns: He/Him

Age: 22

Current Location: Wheaton, Illinois

What drew you to Standing Rock?

Seeing a lot of the videos and the photos as well as hearing what the people here were going through, the struggle, is what brought me here. As a Christian, I wanted to be with people who needed it and stand with those who were on the margins of our society. I wanted to stand with them in their fight for their land, clean water, and clean resources.

How did you hear about the Two Spirit Nation Camp?

Being a gay man, seeing a rainbow flag, was great. I had a friend who came last week who asked me if I had heard of Two Spirit Nation or knew what that was. He said that I should check out the camp and encouraged conversation. So I thought I'd stop in, help out, and see what I could learn.

What has your participation been in the camp overall?

I'm here using my body, using what I have to give in standing with my brothers and sisters that I've met to the best of my ability. I'm working to bring those stories back [through photography].

What has it meant for you to be a part of Two Spirit Nation?

I think it's been encouraging seeing the ways that the Two spirit have created space for themselves and have stood and said 'we are here and a part of this larger nation and land". The ways that they've proudly stood have meant for me. There's something to that, saying that I am here and am standing for what is right. That's been really encouraging to see and learn.

How do you hope to elevate the concerns of the Two Spirit Nation in your home community of Wheaton?

It's very difficult. People [at Wheaton College] don't always humanize those with these experiences, those who are gay, LGBTQ, who are Two Spirit and so it's easy for them to think of this as an idea or a stance to make. Through some of the photos I'm taking and through the stories that have been shared with me, I hope to bring that back to Wheaton and say that these are [real] people, they aren't ideas that you are taking a stance against or for. These are people who are just like you as much as the people near you that you see. Just because you don't see them doesn't mean that they don't exist; they have lives and beauty in them to be revered and respected. My goal at Wheaton is to help humanize [this experience] and share the voices that feel [like they've gotten] lost. That's not to say Wheaton is a bad place. There are a lot of allies. There are a lot of people willing to listen, willing to learn.

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