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Harlan Pruden Discusses Two-Spirit Identity

Harlan Pruden visits Northeastern University to lead a workshop on the native meaning of Two-Spirit.

Harlan Pruden, First Nations Cree citizen, visited Northeastern University on Friday, February 9, 2020. Pruden came to speak about their roles as a Two-Spirit community organizer. Pruden’s lecture comes at a timely discussion to educate attendees on the definition of two-spirit— a term widely misused, misunderstood, and unknown to both the Native and LGBTQ+ community. 

Pruden began by breaking down the constructs of gender and sexuality to the western world. Faculty and students were encouraged to participate with their own stories, ask questions, and engage with their own concerns and learned histories. Pruden confronted the limitations of gender-based definitions such as masculine and feminine, straight and queer and introduced his research about the Cree Nation’s term, two-spirit: an individual who works outside of the western-based binaries of sex and sexuality. To be two-spirited, for the Cree people, is to serve many different duties in society that is seen no better or worse than the masculine and feminine individuals of the tribe. A two-spirit individual, such as Pruden discussed, serves as a community organizer. They are the mediator between the women and men’s camps as someone who has the ability to communicate and understand both groups of people. Pruden displayed many nations across the world have terms and roles that are similar to two-spirited, but chose to focus his involvement with the Cree nation and his people’s history. Pruden’s talk reminds us that there is a history worth unearthing that is birthed from Native People’s language that comes with both a hopeful and rocky past.

“Where there is a word there is a story, a history, a people.”

  Pruden was sure to emphasize the use of storytelling through his presentation to discuss the historiography of Turtle Island and etymology of the word two-spirit. Both his research and presentation showcased decolonial approaches and practices on how to do and be in the world free from western ideologies on binary positions of gender and sex. 

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