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Book Reviewed:

Online Booklet. 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations: We are Part of a Tradition. First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission.
Available on the Internet in PDF format @ http://www.cssspnql.com:8080/cssspnql/ui/health/documents/personnesbispirituellesanglais.pdf

Review by John Day. All copyrights are held by the author.

The work is intended to be a working document for political action by gay aboriginal people in Quebec, although it has useful information for use anywhere else. It stands fairly well on its own merits, as long as it keeps to that point.

The historical and anthropological analysis are much more problematic, and should not be taken as anything close to an authoritative view on anything. This is not to say that they are entirely wrong. The "Two-Spirit" tradition in North American aboriginal cultures is very real, and the the sources the pamphlet cited may be useful introductions to it. But it must be understood that it a carefully selected background for a political primer. Trying to take this understanding any further would be a serious mistake both for the purposes of the book, and a serious discussion of the history and anthropology of the "two-spirit" tradition.

One very specific warning must be made as to its historical and anthropological argument. What is presented is true of some aboriginal cultures. It is not necessarily true in all of them, and it may not even be true in most of them. The pamphlet does acknowledge this in conceding that its presentation does not necessarily apply to the Inuit. However, that will not suffice. The enormous variety of cultures, societies and spiritualities of the aboriginal peoples of the Americas is gravely underestimated. It is much easier to describe differences between the various nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy, Plains Cree, Woods Cree, Stoneys, Beavers, and Chipewyans than their similarities. This simply describes the nations found within the boundaries of the present Province of Alberta. For a Blackfoot, the ways of the Chipewyans were at least as foreign as the ways of Europeans. If a Cree and a Blackfoot married, their children would be considered full as much half-breeds as if either had married a European. There are polar opposites to be found in native spirituality, gender relations and social hierarchies (or lack thereof) simply within these nations, to say nothing of the many, many others which still live in these continents.

Additionally, there is a difficult fact ignored here: Europeans (and Africans) tended to affect native cultures long before Europeans (or Africans) came anywhere near the nations affected. We do not know exactly how they affected aboriginal peoples, although we do know that the effects could be enormous. Oral tradition in native peoples is to be taken very seriously, but it is hard to find one which clearly predates contact with Europeans, even if that contact was indirect.

The generalizations offered here have their truth and their value. However, they are grossly generalized, and should not be taken for anything more than useful arguments for a political program. The sources the pamphlet cites may be a good starting point for looking into these interesting questions.

Still, as an accessible entryway to an alternative view of things, it has its value. And it does well at what it set out to do, which is to assist in political activism at the present day.

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