IPE TIG Week: Searching for Our Two-Spirit Relations in Evaluation by Shepherd Tsosie and Michael Petillo

Hi, we’re Shepherd Tsosie (they/them) (Diné), an Independent Researcher living and working on the traditional territories of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation; and Michael Petillo (he/him or they/them), Principal Consultant for CES Partnership and Senior Research Coordinator at the Center for Health Equity Research of Northern Arizona University, which includes or touches on Ndee/Nnēē, Diné, Havasupai, Hohokam/O’odham, Hopitutskwa, Hualapai, Pueblos, and Shiwinna territories and sacred homelands. We’re honored to be part of the IPE TIG’s blog week.

We’ve been on a shared journey this past year to locate evaluation case studies focused on Two-Spirit (2S) and/or other Indigenous LGBTQ+ folks as part of an AEA eStudy on LGBTQ+ Evaluation. What we found, or didn’t find, form the following reflections.

Two-Spirit is “a mosaic,as Chickasaw scholar Jenny Davis describes, encompassing a wide range of culturally-specific identities beyond Western heteronormative or gender binary constructs. Though 2S folks have long existed, their inclusion in tribally centered evaluation is relatively new. This is at least partly due to heavy reliance on federal government-subsidies and assessments by external, non-Indigenous evaluators. Unfortunately, the use of Indigenous research and evaluation methodologies and employing Indigenous evaluators are also relatively new to the evaluation field. 

Resistance to monitoring/data sharing has resulted from troubled histories of extractive, racist, and oppressive research and evaluation of Indigenous communities that Māori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith details. Evaluators can learn these histories, engage “slow research” through longer-term commitments, and build trust relationships with tribal communities, especially when collecting sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) data. Still, external-funder-required specifically-timed benchmarks, assumptions of “known identities” based on previous less-inclusive measures (like Census data), voluntary data collection, and a general lack of cultural/traditional knowledge create additional challenges.

Data sovereignty matters, especially considering why some data are not globally accessible. More Native nations are protecting their assets and traditional knowledge by developing digital archives/IT systems and resisting external entities’ access to their data. Native nations’ unique “domestic dependent” political status within the United States legal/jurisdictional system can inform evaluation approaches, as Waapalaneexkweew (Nicole R. Bowman) discusses in nation-to-nation relationship-building. Our struggle to find publicly available 2S evaluation case studies, if they exist, may be due to their confidential nature within Native nations, which honors Indigenous data sovereignty.

There is no “cut and dry” way, though learning about Indigenous approaches to evaluation, as well as each Indigenous community’s unique experiences, can help. Some Indigenous communities may stigmatize or disregard 2S identities due to colonial legacies of cultural genocide, imposed Western religious belief systems, and intergenerational boarding school trauma. As we expand our understanding and include 2S identities, we can bring more awareness to the sometimes subtle/still important ways they show up. 

Our search did not uncover a singular example of 2S-focused evaluation. Instead, we tied together two examples – a national LGBTQ+ youth survey and a 2S-focused research project – for an insightful “mash-up.” Additionally, we learned that much work remains. As we all strive to be more LGBTQ+ inclusive in evaluation, let’s include 2S perspectives and recognize Native and Indigenous communities’ cultural, historical, and legal contexts.  

Hot Tips

  • Respect, honor, and include 2S people, especially in LGBTQ+ evaluation and SOGI data collection. 
  • Recognize 2S people as citizens of sovereign nations and interact with their data accordingly. 
  • Understand that no “one size fits all” and learn from each other’s unique realities.
  • Engage “two-eyed seeing”  intersections of Indigenous and Western systems of knowledge.  
  • Integrate 2S engagement at all levels of evaluation.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Indigenous Peoples in Evaluation (IPE) TIG week. All posts this week are contributed by members of the IPE Topical Interest Group. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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