Two-spirited warrior speaks

Published in The Martlet | March 14, 2002 | Circulation: 17,000

At times laughter rolled uncontrollably through the crowded lecture hall. It moved like wind, from left to right, front to back.

Other times, as Chrystos read her poetry, the audience was moved to silence. She didn’t want people to clap. Instead she asked people to shake their hands in the air in appreciation.

A lot of hands were shaking in the air when Native poet Chrystos spoke at UVic on Monday evening. Hundreds of people came to listen to the award-winning poet who is from the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin but now lives in Washington.

Chrystos describes herself as a “Poet Troublemaker Activist Artist.” Her poetry blends the political, angry, erotic and painful.

“I started writing when I was nine,” she said. “It rhymed. I wrote prayers to the blessed Virgin Mary. They rhymed. Now I take the rhymes out.”

Her poetry doesn’t rhyme now but it reflects her struggle as an Aboriginal lesbian – what she calls being “two-spirited.”

Two-spirited is a term many gay Native people began to use 10 years ago to illustrate cultural difference from mainstream white queer culture.

“In most tribes there was a much more flexible gender system,” Chrystos said. “Gender was more about roles and work than it was about sexuality.”

Many people in the audience expressed deep admiration for Chrystos and her work. They call her a woman warrior.

“Women in my tribe are respected for caring for the earth,” Chrystos said. “There’s a sense of motherhood that extends beyond your blood children. That’s part of what being a poet is for me – to protect people, to tell the truth.”

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