BISMARCK — An activist is starting a Two Spirit Society chapter in North Dakota to help promote inclusion for the Native American LGBTQ population.

Cardinal Red Bird, originally of New Town, introduced his newly formed organization to the second annual North Dakota LGBTQ+ Summit this weekend at the Baymont Inn in Mandan. He will speak at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 6.

The term "two spirit" is an umbrella term that describes LGBTQ behavior across all American Indian tribes.

"It covers all those individual names that they call the two spirit people, meaning 'gay' in their own languages," Red Bird said. "The two spirit identifies the female and the male identity within that one person."

The term came about in the 1990s, but the concept of a two-spirited person existed previously and was accepted in Native American culture. Red Bird said the introduction of Christianity to the tribes created a stigma toward LGBTQ members of the population.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

"Times have changed," Red Bird said. "When I was on the reservation, there were times when I was ridiculed, verbally ridiculed, harassed from a distance."

"I'm kind of ashamed sometimes of my own Indian people because here they harass the gay and lesbian (people), but little do they know that we were respected in our Native culture," he said.

Gay marriage is not recognized by any of the five tribes within North Dakota's borders, according to Scott Davis, state Indian Affairs Commissioner.

"None of the the tribes have anything on their books on that," he said.

Of the nearly 3.74 million American Indian and Alaska Natives who live in the U.S., about 36,590 reside in North Dakota, according to the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission. American Indians make up 5.4% of the state's population. No statistics are available on the number of LGBTQ tribal members in North Dakota.

The nonprofit organization based out of Bismarck-Mandan is called "Two Spirit Society and Allies of North Dakota." It will allow both non-Native and non-LGBTQ people to join, Red Bird said.

"We have to include more people of different color," he said. "It can't just be all Native Americans because, to me, there is not enough Native Americans who are gay and lesbian to actually make this nonprofit organization work."

So far, the group is made up of Red Bird and two other members.