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Local activists explain history, future of Indigenous ‘Two-Spirit’ philosophy


Davidson begins the talk by telling the audience, “I know this much about the world.” The audience included a mix of students from the U of I and members of the Champaign-Urbana community. Jacqueline Barba

URBANA – Community members gathered at the Spurlock Museum in Urbana on Sept. 28 to discuss the Indigenous term “Two-Spirit.” 

The term is used within Indigenous communities, they said, to describe a person’s spiritual, sexual, cultural and gender identities. 

The event was a part of the 2022 C-U Pridefest, which is held each year by local advocacy group Uniting Pride of Champaign County. 

Panelists discussed the history behind the term, as well as how allies can support Two-Spirit individuals. 

Panelist Jenny Davis, director of the American Indian studies program at the University of Illinois and a member of the Chickasaw Nation, said the panel is part of a conversation about the intersection of Pride and Indigenous culture. 

“These kinds of conversations allow us to add that depth so that Indigenous peoples have our own cultures, that we have our own languages, that we have our own kinship practices and identities that exist,” Davis said. 

Charlotte Davidson, director of the Native American House at the University of Illinois Urbana campus, said each tribe has its own name for and understanding of what “Two-Spirits” is. 

The term Two-Spirits serves as a way of centering Indigenous perspectives in a conversation about Pride, she said. 

“Our ways are often decentered, and then, you know, what gets centered is often Western religious ways of perceiving a union or a relationship or a partnership between human beings,” Davidson said. 

University of Illinois student James Doney also spoke at the panel. 

Doney is a member of the Aaniiihnen, or Whiteclay, people. As a Minnesota native, he said it was hard to leave an area with a large reservation community to transfer to Illinois. 

He said sharing his background has helped him make the transition easier. 

“I like the fact that I could tell people and inform people about who I am as a person and where I come from and my history and my culture,” Doney said. 

Doney said he hopes to continue working with other Native American students at the university.

To learn more about the term Two-Spirit, visit