Two-Spirited people as accepted and even sacred members of tribal society.18
Monkman's work returns to the source of the original propaganda that culminated in
modern stereotypes about Native peoples, thereby revealing and challenging the
subjectivity of the artists and their self-serving mythologizing. By returning to the site of
colonization, Monkman works to decolonize Native sexuality by offering up an
alternative to the accepted version of history, an alternative that also happens to be closer
to the realities of the period.
Often tied to the creation stories of the tribe, the concept of Two-Spiritedness is
not centred on the physical act of sex; it is the European worldview which essentializes
sexuality in physiological terms. Historically, many tribes gave credence to the existence
of what ethnographer Sue-Ellen Jacobs calls "the third gender," which is as much a
spiritual as it is a physical state of being. The Cree word ayekkwew, for example, means
"neither man nor woman" or "man and woman".19 This is a fitting example for a study of
Monkman, who embodies both gender and racial hybridity as a fundamental aspect to his
identity and work. Monkman refers to these traditions, and his alter-ego is likewise
androgynous, resisting black or white identity markers with her medium-toned skin and
careful balance of male and female. As mentioned in the introduction to this essay, the
modern term, Two-Spirit, reflects the concept that a person can house both the male and
female spirit in one body, that not every individual can be categorized in a heterosexual
The term "Two Spirit" has gained popularity within the Native gay community
18 Williams, Walter. The Spirit and The Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. Boston:
Beacon Press: 1986. Although Williams employs the "berdache" terminology, he offers a thorough history of Two-Spirit life and identity pre-colonialism, affirming its existence and positive status while highlighting the difficulties of researching a topic that has been so deeply shut down through systematic colonial oppression.
Ibid., p. 82.