Queering Indigenous Histories

Solicited by the OAH Committee on the Status of LGBTQ Historians and Histories Endorsed by OHA

Friday, March 31, 2023, 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: LGBTQ History and Queer Studies; Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples


The papers on this panel span several centuries to showcase important new scholarship in queer Native histories. Kai Pyle’s paper examines the roles played by Two-Spirit individuals in Indigenous diplomacy via the fur trade at the turn of the eighteenth century. Lani Teves uses oral histories with Native Hawai'ian LGBTQ elders to explore everyday activism and the impacts of colonialism in modern Hawai'ian history. And Chris Finley utilizes the historical format of the manifesto to call for Native nations and communities to decolonize by honoring Two-Spirit Queer Indigenous peoples as sacred and beloved members of Indigenous nations and communities. 

Papers Presented

Two-Spirit Love and War as Diplomacy: Queering Indigenous Fur Trade Histories

This paper focuses on Ozaawindib, an agokwe (an Ojibwe term for individual assumed male at birth who lived as a woman), daughter of a war leader, and an accomplished warrior herself in the Red River country during the late 1700s and early 1800s. By reading mentions of her life by European men in the context of the extensive scholarly literature on Indigenous women’s roles in this period, I examine how she as an agokwe both fits within and expands narratives about gender in the fur trade and Ojibwe communities. I argue that her pursuit and ultimate rejection of a white man adopted as an Anishinaabe for a husband reveals that agokweg also participated in strategic marriages with outsiders just as cisgender Indigenous women did, and her story illuminates some of the qualifications that Indigenous women may have considered in choosing a husband at this time. Through this analysis, we can zoom out from Ozaawindib’s individual actions in marriage and warfare to take into account the ongoing conflicts between Ojibwe and Dakota people in the late 18th century. These conflicts, which defined Ojibwe life as much as or even more than engagements with the European fur trade, shaped Ozaawindib’s experiences throughout her life. Though telling her story requires relying on white male records, by recasting them through recent scholarship on Indigenous history, we can learn much about the unique and the quotidian roles played by Two-Spirit individuals in Indigenous diplomacy at the turn of the eighteenth century.

Presented By
Kai Pyle, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Māhele of Our Bodies

Prior to colonization, Kanaka Maoli society had many forms of social relationships that reflected a flexibility in what we now call sexuality and gender. This flexibility was violently discouraged and later outlawed with the conversion to Christianity and eventual overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893. By the time Hawaiʻi became a U.S. state in 1959, many of the sexual practices and gender expressions that did not fit within heteropatriarchal norms had become very unacceptable. Currently there is little written on the history of sexuality in “modern” Hawaiʻi. This is curious considering Hawaiʻi was the first U.S. state to ratify the equal rights amendment and was one of the earliest to write transgender and sexual orientation protections into state law. Hawaiʻi was also notably the first state to ostensibly allow same-sex marriage in a historic legal decision in 1993, also the hundredth anniversary of the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Based on recent oral histories with Kanaka Maoli LGBTQ Kupuna (elders), this paper explores the everyday activism of kupuna who navigated the impacts of colonialism on Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) understandings of gender and sexuality and attendant widespread homophobia, alongside the emergence of a gay civil rights and a Hawaiian sovereignty movement in the mid to late twentieth century. The paper will discuss how transpacific networks of care, anti-nuclear activism, and early formations of “Indigenous feminism” and recognition worked to disrupt the heteronormative pressures of settler-colonialism.

Presented By
Lani Teves, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa

A Queer Indigenous Manifesto: Our Lives and Bodies Are Sacred

The violence and dangers of settler colonialism remain deadly realities in the daily lives of Indigenous peoples because colonialism, heteropatriarchy, and dispossession in the United States continues to constitute the political and social landscape. To make this clear, patriarchy and sexual violence are not add-ons of settler colonialism but how settler colonialism continues to operate both within settler and sadly, many Native societies as a result of internalized heteropatriarchy. Without dismantling heteropatriarchy within Native communities, we cannot decolonize. One way Native nations and communities can begin to decolonize is by honoring the bodies and lives of Indigenous women and 2SQ [Two-Spirit Queer] Indigenous peoples as sacred and beloved members of our Indigenous nations and communities.

Presented By
Chris Finley, University of Southern California

Session Participants

Chair: Cookie Woolner, University of Memphis
Assistant Professor of History and OAH Committee on the Status of LGBTQ Historians and Histories Co-Chair University of Memphis 

Presenter: Chris Finley, University of Southern California
Assistant Professor of American and Ethnic Studies University of Southern California  

Presenter: Kai Pyle, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
American Indian Studies Postdoctoral Fellow  University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign 

Presenter: Lani Teves, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa
Associate Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies University of Hawai’i - Mānoa