“Pre-contact, I’ve been told a lot that there were much different ideas about sexuality before Europeans came, and I mean, we’ve been thoroughly Christianized and thoroughly assimilated,” Ricky Tagaban said in a conversation touching on his Alaska Native heritage.
An Alaska resource for youth on issues of sex, sexuality and gender, Iknowmine.org, talks about Alaska Native treatment of minority sexuality: “Many Alaska Native and other Native cultures have stories or traditional roles or words in their Native language that describe people who were LGBTQ and Native. These ways were around before contact and many of our traditional ways have been lost since contact with non-natives. Nowadays, some Alaska Native and American Indian people prefer to call themselves Two-spirit, instead of LGBTQ. Two-spirit is a term that is only for Natives to use to mean that they are LGBTQ and Native to honor the traditions that may have been lost or not practiced now.”
Ricky said he’s heard many things over they years regarding homosexuality or gender identity in Native culture.
“I’ve talked to young people who said, “An elder told me that if you were caught being gay then your hair would be tied to a rock at low tide and you would drown,” and young people were telling me that and it was like, that sounds pretty inaccurate,” Ricky said. “There’s a clan house in Yakutat called “The Man Who Acted Like a Woman” house, and really significant names come from really significant events and it just becomes part of our oral history.
He also said he had heard of a Butterfly house in Sitka populated by gay men, but he wasn’t so sure of the veracity of this statement. He added “Shamans are kind of their own thing and I’m pretty sure sexuality was much more fluid pre-contact.”
Sonja Haselton has been to conferences and has read extensively about sexuality and gender identity, and Lin Davis is working on the LGBT history of Alaska for a nationwide project. Both mentioned the different attitude toward homosexuality and transgendered or intersex people by Native cultures from around the country.
Lin said the California chapter in the history begins with Native Americans and, similar to the information provided by Iknowmine.org, talks about two-spirit people.
Sonja said, “the tribe works as one and they are considered special because they have both sides, they become the healers, they become the truthsayers.”
For Ricky, being gay and Native opened up an opportunity for him to practice an art form traditionally done by women.
“In 2010, I was invited to learn Chilkat weaving and, traditionally, and people don’t always follow this but traditionally men are not allowed to do Chilkat weaving, but gay men are. When I started doing Chilkat weaving, I realized I was going to weave probably for the rest of my life.”
When it comes to his identity, Ricky said, “I think sexuality definitely, I just don’t want to be considered ‘less than’ solely based on that. I think I kind of carry it with me in a way where I know that I have nothing to apologize for in those terms.”
• Contact reporter Melissa Griffiths at 523-2272 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.