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The Two-Spirit, Queer, Disabled Scholar Making Waves

Qwo Li Driskill

Qwo-Li Driskill is a two-spirit, queer (non-citizen) Cherokee; as well as a trans scholar, teacher, and activist also of African, Irish, Lenape, Lumbee, and Osage ascent, who also identifies as “Crip and Mad.” 

They explain, “I have several chronic illnesses as well as complex post-traumatic stress." 

Driskill is the author of Walking with Ghosts: Poemsand Asegi Stories: Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Memory, and coeditor of Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions is Theory, Politics, and Literatureand Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature.

The 43-year-old is director of graduate studies and the queer studies curriculum organizer in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University.Still, Driskill makes it a point to say, “I think that all labor is collective. I’m proud of my accomplishments, particularly if they’re useful to other people, but they’re reflections of elders, friends, families, movements, and communities to which I’m grateful.”

Earlier this year they were a keynote speaker at the 24th annual Women’s and Gender Studies Symposium, where they spoke about “resistance and resilience in the face of ongoing forms of violence: racism, transphobia, homophobia, and settler colonialism and to remind scholars in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and other activist-minded fields that our work was always imagined as the academic arms of liberation movements, and that we are responsible to that vision.”

Driskill serves on the advisory board for Oregon State’s Native American Longhouse Eena Haws, which they call “the heartbeat of Indigenous community at OSU. And it’s the center of programing for Indigenous-centered events.”

Eena Haws, as run by Luhui Whitebear (one of Driskill’s doctoral students) is “explicitly intersectional in its approach to Indigenous issues,” says Driskill, meaning that two-spirit and LGBTQ people are “included at every level.” 

Ruminating on pride under the current regime, Driskill says, “I’m proud of being alive and not becoming a horrible person. This year has been hard — our communities are under explicit and renewed attacks, and we’re seeing major national and global backlash against all marginalized people and our movements. We’re seeing a systematic dismantling of the gains of movements for justice. We’re already within a global ecological disaster. It’s both traumatizing and a reminder of the trauma we’ve experienced personally and that our families and communities have experienced for generations. I think for all of us surviving and remaining resilient is a major achievement.” 

Two-spirit and LGBTQ-plus Indigenous people still struggle with a lack of visibility, but Driskill says, “The world needs to hear that we’re still here and we’re not going anywhere. Indigenous 2SLGBTQ+ are a model of resistance, continuance, and resurgence. Indigenous 2SLGBTQ+ elders, activists, artists, and scholars — who are often the very same people — have cleared a path for healing and reconciliation in our communities and are reminding us to not only remember our past, but to imagine our futures not only for Indigenous people but for all people. Colonization and racism has tried — and tries — to eradicate gender-sexual complexities for Indigenous people globally and ‘civilize’ us into cis-heteropatriarchy.

Indigenous 2SLGBTQ+ people are reminding the world that the plan to make us disappear has failed. Our stories are necessary to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities if we are to change our current realities.”

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