Two Spirits: Gender, Oral History, and the Peyote Way


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Innovation Fellowships




The Native American Church (NAC) is a pan-Indigenous organization formed in 1918 to protect the religious use of peyote. To make Indigenous religious traditions legible within settler legal regimes, NAC leaders sought First Amendment protections when religious leadership was imagined as an exclusively male domain. Now, in the twenty-first century, women and gender variant people known as “two spirits” have begun to enter the NAC in greater numbers. Given that gender variance and women’s religious leadership were common in Indigenous societies prior to European colonization, how are women and two spirits today revitalizing a pre-colonial lineage? As a dual project of archival and oral history, this dissertation documents the resurgence, rearticulation, and renegotiation of gender, authority, and tradition within—and beyond—the Native American Church.