History tells us that Indigenous Queer people were present and lived openly in Pre-Columbian families, tribes and large cities throughout the Americas. As Post-Contact urban centres grew, Two-Spirit people continued to live within these colonial spaces and much later, in the 1940's and 50's, more people migrated from reserves to these cities. For the most part, Two-Spirit people existed on the edges of the broader gay community until the 1970's when groups began to organize themselves around their Indigenous identities and cultures. For example, the Gay American Indians (GAI) opened in San Francisco in 1975 and the Greater Vancouver Native Cultural Society (GVNCS) began in British Columbia in 1979. The 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations (TPFN) formally organized in Toronto in 1989. http://www.2spirits.com/
The fight for Indigenous Queer rights intersected with that of the larger Gay community at the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on October 11, 1987. GAI and many other Indigenous LGBT people were part of this movement. AIDS cases among gay Two-Spirit men was also devastating urban Indigenous gay communities at this time and this crisis galvanized some community leaders to reach out to Two-Spirit people as a way to prevent further HIV cases.
The first formal meeting was held in Minnesota at the Minneapolis American Indian Center. The Basket and The Bow event brought together Two-Spirit people from around the US and Canada. A group of fifteen members of Winnipeg's Nichiwakan Native Gay Society travelled to Minneapolis to participate. Many of the delegates were well versed in their languages and cultural teachings and there were those who were just learning about them. The importance of traditional ceremony and teachings at the meeting changed how future meetings would be held. Firstly, it was agreed that future gatherings would be held outside urban centres in a natural environment, and secondly, that alcohol and drug use would be prohibited.
The annual gathering has since travelled across the US and Canada. It remains one of the longest running LGBTQ events in North America. Many of the leaders eventually went on to create the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center https://www.nnaapc.net/ in the US and the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network http://caan.ca/ in Canada.
To date, there are now seventeen Two-Spirit organizations under the umbrella of the International Council of Two-Spirit Societies (ICTSS). Many of these organizations host regional gatherings for their constituents.
The annual gathering has been hosted on First Nation and Metis lands, as well as in the desert and in the mountains and in many sacred spaces across the far reaches of North America.
The first Native American Gay and Lesbian gathering was held in Minneapolis in the summer of 1988. It was decided then that future gatherings would be held in natural spaces as opposed to urban centres. Since then we have travelled across North American to honour Two-Spirit people in their traditional territories. In this way, we reclaim our sacred roles and spaces.
Our communities are acknowledging our rightful place. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Belgarde holding the Manito Ahbee Festival and Pow Wow Eagle Staff in 2015. Eagle feathers were attached by Sky Bridges to represent Two-Spirit people.
The gathering is a creative space where artists, activists, and Two-Spirit Elders and leaders meet to share their knowledge, gifts, and skills.