Coined in 1990 at the Third Annual Inter-tribal Native American First Nations Gay and Lesbian American Conference held in Winnipeg, the term “Two Spirit” (2S) refers to indigenous individuals whose gender expression and sexuality transcended Western binaries. The term reflects complex Indigenous understandings of gender roles, spirituality, and the long history of sexual and gender diversity in Indigenous cultures. The term galvanized Native LGBT activism, and boosted interest in a fledgling group located in Greenwich Village.
In 1989, the American Indian Community House moved to 404 Lafayette Street/708 Broadway (at Washington Place), driven primarily by a need for expanded space to accommodate its growing programs. This site served as AICH’s longest-standing home, from 1989 to 2006, and was a particularly important period for its output and development.
In the same year, WeWah & BarCheeAmpe, the first Native American Two-Spirit organization in New York, was formed by staff members at the AICH. It’s mission was to address homophobia within native communities and highlight the unique challenges faced by LGBT Native Americans. WeWah & BarCheeAmpe takes its name from two significant historical Two-Spirit figures:
- We’wha (1849–1896) was a Zuni fiber artist, weaver and potter. potter, weaver, and cultural ambassador. We’Wah, who identified as a “lhamana,” a Zuni term denoting an individual assigned male at birth but who embraced traditionally feminine roles and attire, served as a cultural ambassador, becoming a contact point and educator for many European-American settlers, teachers, soldiers, missionaries, and anthropologists.
- BarCheeAmpe (1806-1854), also known as Pine Leaf or Woman Chief, was a famous Crow warrior known for her relationships with women. Known for her prodigious combat skills, she became one of the Crows’ most significant leaders, joining the Council of Chiefs.
While operating as a distinct entity, WeWah & BarCheeAmpe was closely intertwined with the mission and services of the American Indian Community House. In 1990, they established the AICH HIV/AIDS Project, which created a safe-sex guide for Native Americans and provided traditional death ceremonies.
In 1991, during Pride Week, they organized New York’s first-ever Two-Spirit pow-wow at McBurney YMCA, and in July, they held the first-ever conference on HIV/AIDS within the Two-Spirit community.
In 1992, WeWah and BarCheeAmpe lead the Pride March and held a Two-Spirit variety show, an effort to redefine the Christopher Columbus’s quincentennial arrival as “500 Years of Survival and Resistance.”
WeWah & BarCheeAmpe were involved in the creation of several publications for 2S LGBTQ+ individuals of color. From 1990 to 1993, the group operated out of an office at 111 East 14th Street, and published “Buffalo Hide,” a newsletter that served as an essential platform for Two-Spirit writers. The newsletter covered a wide range of political issues, including information on upcoming conferences and conventions, safe sex guidelines, and referrals for HIV/AIDS services, as well as condemning non-Native “shamans” who exploited Native religions for personal gain.
WeWah & BarCheeAmpe also played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Cairos Project, a coalition of 2S LGBTQ+ individuals of color, formed after meetings at the AICH. From 1992 to 1994, the Cairos Project published ColorLife!: The Lesbian, Gay, Two-Spirit & Bisexual, People of Color Magazine.
By the mid-1990s, the group had stopped meeting regularly, and its projects, primarily driven by volunteers and community contributions, was a labor of love that was taking a toll on its members. In 1994, WeWah & BarCheeAmpe dissolved, subsequently evolving into the Northeast Two-Spirit Society and later the Two-Spirit Indigenous Peoples Association, which both maintained connections with the AICH.
“Bar Chee Ampe and Beyond: Uncovering Two-Spirit Identity, Part 3 | New-York Historical Society.” Nyhistory.org, 2019.
“Two-Spirit Community.” Lgbtqhealth.ca, 2018.
“WeWah & BarCheeAmpe at the American Indian Community House – NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project.” Nyclgbtsites.org, 2022.