Aiden Crawford: Two Spirit, Two Worlds
Behind-the-scenes with the star of Fovrth’s new VR documentary, We’re Still Here
By KIMBERLY KUXHAUSE
BOISE, IDAHO — Last Fall, Fovrth Studios caught up with Aiden Crawford just days before his presentation on Two Spirit culture at Boise State University — an event he approached with enthusiasm and caution. Aiden, an artist and historian of Cherokee, Choctaw, and Scottish descent, sees the value of sharing his culture with the world; yet, as a Native American Two Spirit, he appreciates the importance and responsibility of carefully representing his heritage to a non-native audience.
The BSU event and Fovrth’s shoot both coincided with one of the busiest months of the year for Aiden, an artist who meticulously creates hand-made crafts in strict adherence to the traditions of his heritage. Yet, Aiden welcomed Fovrth into his life and community, allowing We’re Still Here to share his knowledge and thoughtful reflection with the rest of the world.
“Aiden not only opened up to us, but he guided the message at every step of the production,” reflects Jesse Ayala, the director of We’re Still Here. “Erasure and misrepresentation are all to common in many marginalized cultures, certainly in terms of media on First Nations. Aiden, truly a fountain of knowledge, knows this better than anyone, and he was patient, firm, and generous all at once with his story and guiding our whole team.”
As Aiden prepared for the BSU event, he reflected on these issues. As a historian, he can point to countless examples of these misrepresentations and the damage they’ve wrought on First Nations across North America; at the same time, he cherishes his history deeply. He discovered profound purpose and meaning in his heritage and community, and hoped, through sharing his story, to inspire others to search for similar answers in their own cultures.
“As long as one person shows up, that can make all the difference,” Aiden smiled.
While most Americans have come to a greater awareness of the transgender community in recent decades, far fewer are familiar with the term Two Spirit. Two-Spirit is a cultural term describing the fluidity of gender identity and sexuality with respect to traditional tribal roles across First Nations throughout North America. For those who identify as Two Spirit, like Aiden, the term involves a sense of spirituality, identity, and heritage. Although it varies between tribes, Two Spirit generally brings with it, as Aiden explained, “the responsibility of a culture.” A Two Spirit individual is active in their community and learns the history, the language, and the traditions from their Two Spirit elders. Ultimately, he says, it’s an earned title and a way of life. Two-Spirit is ingrained in the very soul of the community, and there’s a historical record to prove it.
One such instance is traced back to colonial days, when the settlers were attempting to understand the Cherokee word for gay and transgender. But there wasn’t one. “We didn’t have a word or concept for someone who was gay or transgender because they were just people,” Aiden described.
There was a certain inclusivity present in the Cherokee language that English just didn’t have. When the English speakers insisted on Cherokee words for what they saw, they received words meaning, “that way,” or “different spirited man,” resulting in thirteen different Cherokee words and phrases to translate concepts the Cherokee people had never felt a need to distinguish. Two Spirit’s weren’t excluded; they were an integral part of the community. Aiden is proud of his heritage and grateful there’s a clear presence of his identity through the ages.
“I’m pretty privileged because I have a culture that has historic documentation that I am a part of it, I am accepted, that I am not a sin.”
As the BSU event commenced, Aiden began his presentation to a packed house of students and community members from Boise. He spoke to his family’s history, the history of his tribes, and the history of Two Spirit identities across North American First Nations. He spoke to the issue of cultural appropriation, but encouraged his audience to look into their own cultures and histories.
“We’ve always been here,” Aiden said with a smile to a full audience of students and community members at Boise State University.
Today, few Two-Spirit elders remain active across North American First Nations. Thus, Aiden’s story is that of a race-against-time, to learn, to educate, and to pass down the wisdom of his First Nations Two Spirit elders. This summer, Aiden aims to host a Two Spirit Youth Pow Wow with his Two Spirit Elders to continue his fight for his people and their history’s preservation. To learn more about Aiden’s work and history, visit his website at www.CraftyCrawford.com.