In the latest episode of Pow Wow Life podcast, host Paul Gowder engages in a thought-provoking conversation with Yue Begay, a Navajo transgender woman, and co-chair of Indigenous Pride of Los Angeles. During the interview, Yue passionately discusses the significance of the Two Spirit identity within Native American tribes, the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community, and the importance of education and understanding in fostering inclusivity.
Reconnecting with Cultural Roots
Yue Begay begins by highlighting a resurgence in the desire to connect with Native American heritage, pointing to the increasing use of native languages and engagement in traditional activities like beadwork. This resurgence has been fueled by a combination of factors, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of social media. Furthermore, the revitalization of native storytelling in television and books has played a vital role in rekindling a sense of cultural identity.
Navigating Two Spirit Terminology
The term “Two Spirit” was coined in the 1990s by Native American elders to replace the derogatory term “Berdache” used by colonizers. Yue stresses the importance of understanding and using the term correctly, making it clear that it is not an umbrella term for all LGBTQ+ individuals. Rather, it is a unique identity within Native American culture that encompasses diverse gender and sexual identities.
Acting as a Bridge
Two Spirit individuals hold an essential role as a bridge between the LGBTQ+ community and the larger Native American community. Yue emphasizes that various tribes and cultures had their own terminology for non-cisgender or heterosexual individuals long before colonization. This historical acknowledgment points to the acceptance and inclusion of diverse gender and sexual identities within Native tribes.
Creating Inclusive Environments
As a project consultant and graphic designer in the public health field, Yue's work focuses on incorporating Two Spirit people, trans people, and Native people into initiatives. This work includes assessing the intentions and sustainability of programs, addressing issues like homophobia and transphobia, and providing guidance on creating infrastructure to better serve these communities. Yue underlines the importance of community accountability and establishing advisory boards to ensure that community needs are met.
The Role of Education and Support
Yue has co-authored a curriculum on improving services for Two Spirit individuals and has collaborated with organizations such as the Indigenous Circle of Wellness. Through focus groups, they gathered data to inform curriculum development, highlighting the challenges and biases faced by providers. Hospitals and clinics must prioritize the training of receptionists and security guards, as they play a crucial role in creating an inclusive environment for native queer and trans people.
The Resilience of Two Spirit Identity
Yue delves into the roots of Two Spirit identity, originating from the rich heritage of Native American tribes. Despite facing discrimination and violence, even within their own communities, Two Spirit individuals continued to persevere. The survival of this identity can be attributed to elders who shared their stories, keeping the knowledge alive. Yue's grandmother played an instrumental role in passing on the concept of “nathlehet” (Two Spirit identity) and shedding light on the hidden aspects of culture and language due to fear of racism and limited opportunities.
Honoring Two Spirit Royalty
A significant moment discussed during the interview is the Tribal Royalty event, organized by community advocate and educator April Cordova. This event showcased power royalty from Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. By moving beyond superficial aspects, it allowed younger participants to understand the true significance of being a Native royalty person. Yue was particularly impressed by the strong connection these young individuals displayed towards their culture and traditions, dismissing the notion that young people are not actively engaging with their heritage.
Yue Begay's interview on Powwows.com showcases the importance of embracing and understanding Two Spirit identity within Native American tribes. Through their work as a project consultant, graphic artist, and LGBTQ+ advocate, Yue tirelessly strives for inclusivity, education, and support. As we navigate the path towards a more tolerant and accepting society, it is essential to recognize the cultural wealth and wisdom of indigenous communities and honor the resilience and contributions of Two Spirit individuals.