Johns Hopkins University Press
  • “Twins Twisted into One”: Recovering a Sovereign Erotic in Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian

This essay engages recent scholarship in queer Indigenous feminist studies to reread and reframe Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian (1942) and the figure of its author, Don Talayesva (1890–1976), in ways that address canonical scholars’ (mis)interpretations. Throughout Sun Chief, Talayesva identifies their self as “twins twisted into one,” male and female siblings who were united in their mother’s womb prior to being born. Reading Sun Chief as a work of Hopi literature rather than a social scientific study, I recover Talayesva’s narration of their self-conception as twins twisted into one as an expression of a sovereign erotic: a resource of spiritual power and felt knowledge rooted in their body as well as in Hopi land and community. My close readings of the text focus on examples of Talayesva’s indiscipline, my term for Indigenous peoples’ resistance to settler colonial disciplinary institutions and assimilation policies designed to individualize Native peoples by breaking up relational identities and ties to land, tribal communities, and Indigenous epistemologies.

Since its original publication in 1942, Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian, authored by Don C. Talayesva and edited by the sociologist Leo Simmons, has been a favored object of analysis among scholars interested in developing theories of cross-cultural understanding. The prominent American anthropologists Clyde Kluckhohn and David Aberle, respectively, published an influential review of the text in 1943 and a book-length study in 1951.1 The French anthropologist and ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote the preface to the French translation, Soleil Hopi (Hopi Sun), in 1959.2 By 1976, Sun Chief was in its sixteenth Yale University Press printing and was published in the US, Great Britain, Europe, and Africa, and four other presses distributed Sun Chief throughout Latin America, Australia, Southeast Asia, India, and Japan. Evidencing Sun Chief’s continued popularity, Yale University Press released a second edition in 2013, with a new foreword by the Hopi historian Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert. Gilbert notes that previous “readers of Sun Chief often focused on Talayesva’s detailed accounts of Hopi ceremonies or the descriptions of his3 many sexual encounters . . . [and] dreams” and urges contemporary scholars to center “larger issues of Hopi self-determination.”4 The British anthropologist Peter Whiteley also notes that Talayesva’s “sexual preoccupations” were what “drew such attention to Sun Chief.”5 While Gilbert is right to challenge scholarly analyses of Sun Chief that neglect the text’s significance to Hopi sovereignty discourses, the critique of scholars’ fascination with Sun Chief’s sexual content risks insinuating that sex is irrelevant to Indigenous sovereignty struggles. It is important to consider how Sun Chief’s narration of Talayesva’s “sexual preoccupations” does not distract from but represents a significant aspect of Talayesva’s exercise of Hopi self-determination.

Settler colonialism is an inherently heteronormative structure that coerces Indigenous peoples’ conformity to heteropatriarchy, and it has led to “the stifling of Indigenous sexes, sexualities, and sensualities” that are not purely [End Page 101] physical but are enmeshed with spiritual traditions rooted in Indigenous communities and lands.6 Throughout Sun Chief, Talayesva identifies as “twins twisted into one,” male and female siblings who were united in their mother’s womb prior to being born. Talayesva’s identity as twins was stifled during the decade they spent in colonial schools, and it has been stifled by critical interpretations of Sun Chief. Perhaps influenced by Lévi-Strauss’s structural anthropology and therefore looking for homologous counterparts in Hopi and European/American cultures, previous scholars have misinterpreted Talayesva as a homosexual man. While these scholars may have had good intentions to understand Talayesva or Hopi culture in terms they could understand, the impact of dismissing Talayesva’s claim to embody a dual subjectivity and instead foisting onto Talayesva a singular identity based on non-Hopi ideas of gender and sexual orientation enacts an assault on Talayesva’s self-determination.

This essay seeks to recover Talayesva’s narration of their twinned and twined identity in Sun Chief as part of their journey to a sovereign erotic. Qwo-Li Driskill coined the term sovereign erotic to theorize the goal of decolonizing Indigenous peoples’ sex and gender, which were primary targets of settler colonial disciplinary institutions such as Indian boarding schools in the US and residential schools in Canada. Driskill defines a sovereign erotic as the reintegration of Indigenous peoples’ sexuality and spirituality, “an erotic wholeness healed and/or healing from the historical trauma that First Nations people continue to survive, rooted within the histories, traditions, and resistance struggles of our nations.”7 Talayesva’s narration of their dual subjectivity defies settler colonial attempts to individualize and assimilate them into Anglo-American culture. Their sense of being twins twisted into one constitutes an erotic wholeness that provides them with a deep resource of spiritual power and felt knowledge rooted in their body as well as Hopi land, cosmology, and community.

Talayesva (1890–1976) was over fifty years old at the end of the three-year period 1938–41 during which they told their life story to Simmons through oral and written responses to interview questions and more than eight thousand pages of a self-written diary. Talayesva’s original writing and close involvement in the text’s production process make Sun Chief a unique work of “Indian autobiography,” Arnold Krupat’s term for “bicultural composites in which the named Native subject’s story has been transcribed, arranged, edited, or otherwise constructed by a white collaborator.”8 Since the early 1930s, Talayesva had been employed and compensated in the production of knowledge about Hopi people. The anthropologist Mischa Titiev had rented a room in the house of Talayesva’s wife, Irene, during a research trip to the Hopi reservation [End Page 102] in 1933, and Titiev wrote a letter to Talayesva five years later recommending that they host and work with Simmons.9 When Simmons arrived in Oraibi, Talayesva writes,

I stopped my work and went about with him. In two weeks he . . . taught me to write my diary, saying over and over that he wanted the complete record. He also helped me with my work at herding, farming, and care of horses, and used his car to take our friends to dances and sick children to Hopi doctors. When I knew him better, I agreed to tell him anything about myself except ceremonial secrets. . . . I was often surprised at myself for telling him things that I had never told any other person. This made me feel that my Guardian Spirit approved of our work; and I finally wondered if my Guide had brought us together.


Talayesva’s collaboration with Simmons depended on the felt and formal approval of others including their Spirit Guide, wife, sister, and Oraibi village Chief Tewaquaptewa, who adopted Simmons as his son in a ceremony in which Simmons became Talayesva’s brother (340). Ultimately, Sun Chief’s production was contingent on Simmons’s behavior as a good relative who observed kinship obligations to Talayesva and their Hopi community. However, critical interpretations have tended to disregard the collaborative, reciprocal relationship of Sun Chief’s author and editor and privilege Simmons’s objectives, consequently subordinating Talayesva’s voice.

Simmons’s introduction to Sun Chief claims that one of his primary “objectives” is “to accumulate and arrange . . . a substantial body of concrete and relevant data on an individual in a ‘primitive’ society for the purpose of developing and checking hypotheses in the field of culture and its relation to personality development, or of the individual and his [sic] role in cultural change” (1–2). Early reviewers accordingly pigeonholed Sun Chief as a sociological study of Talayesva’s personality rather than a work of Hopi literature. Kluckhohn claims that “‘latent homosexuality’ is a major thema in [Talayesva’s] personality” and cites Talayesva’s “conviction of original uncertainty as to his [sic] sex,” among other “data scattered throughout the text,” to “justify” this “hypothesis.”10 The historian Robert Hine’s foreword to the 1963 printing of Sun Chief echoes Kluckhohn’s theory and claims that “there is more than a suggestion of latent homosexuality” in Talayesva’s character (xxi). These speculations about Talayesva’s sexuality presume the universality of Euro-American constructions of gender and sexual orientation. Misinterpretations of Talayesva’s claim to be twins twisted into one as evidence of “latent homosexuality” erase what Talayesva actually says about their self and thereby elide Sun Chief’s representation of a Hopi sovereign erotic. [End Page 103]

Although Sun Chief was conceived as an ethnological project initiated by Simmons, I read Talayesva’s autobiography as a work of Hopi literature to restore Sun Chief’s place among Indigenous personal testimonies and literatures like those of Maria Campbell, Lee Maracle, Ruby Slipperjack, and others. As Dian Million argues, such works “were political acts . . . that exploded the measured ‘objective’ accounts of . . . colonial histories” because “their felt knowledges” served “as a limit and boundary where white academia designated them incomprehensible.”11 Krupat reminds us that “as a particular form of self-written life,” autobiography is a “comparatively recent” “European invention” that “is marked by egocentric individualism, history, and writing.”12 Beyond Simmons’s editorship, Talayesva’s existence as two-people-in-one seems to preclude Sun Chief’s belonging to the genre of autobiography, which emphasizes the individuality of “the isolated autonomous person.”13 Hertha Dawn Wong notes that traditional “Native American self-conceptions . . . are defined by community and landscape” rather than “autonomous individualism” and offers the term communo-bio-oratory as an alternative name for collaboratively written Indian autobiographies.14

Attending to Sun Chief as a work of Hopi literature, whether we categorize its genre as autobiography or communo-bio-oratory, helps reestablish Talayesva’s authorial voice, which has been eclipsed by scholars who read the text as simply a product of Simmons’s sociological research. In addressing the problems raised by Sun Chief’s reception history, it is appropriate to acknowledge the shared etymology of the English words genre and gender, which both stem from the Latin root gener-, meaning “kind” or “sort.” Talayesva’s self-conception as twins twisted into one is not a gender, kind, or sort of person and is incommensurable with Euro-American sex/gender identities that scholars have superimposed onto Talayesva.

Whereas structural anthropology imposes non-Native concepts from settler colonial cultures onto Indigenous narratives and lifeways, an ethic of incommensurability enables interpretations informed by land-based Indigenous epistemologies. In “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor,” Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang “forward ‘an ethic of incommensurability’ that recognizes what is distinct” about Indigenous peoples’ cultures and political struggles “and what is sovereign for project(s) of decolonization.”15 An ethic of incommensurability acknowledges and accepts the differences that exist between and among Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples rather than forcing them into a mold of sameness or similarity. Talayesva’s self-conception as twins twisted into one is a way of being and knowing that does not exist in English language/thought, [End Page 104] and equating it with Euro-American concepts of homosexuality prevents understanding its Hopi land- and community-based significance. As Tuck and Yang argue, “Decolonization in the settler colonial context must involve the repatriation of land simultaneous to the recognition of how land and relations to land have always already been differently understood and enacted.”16 Whereas settler colonizers view land as a commodity to be bought and sold, “Native land and Native people” are “co-constitutive.”17 Through various natural cycles of incorporation and expulsion, the land becomes our bodies, and our bodies become the land. We form deep-rooted ties to lands where our ancestors’ bones reside and where we pray at altars and earthworks that mark sacred places. We do not own the land or live on the land; we are the land.

During Talayesva’s lifetime, settler colonial biopolitics entailed the disciplining of Native peoples’ bodies, for example, through institutionalization in Indian boarding schools, as essential for dispossessing them of their lands. Talayesva’s insistence that they are twins defies Western definitions of selfhood inherent in settler colonial efforts to assimilate Indians into the dominant culture through discipline. Talayesva’s resistance to disciplinary processes designed to individualize Native peoples constitutes a decolonizing praxis I call indiscipline. Whereas the dictionary defines indiscipline as a lack of discipline or control, my idea of indiscipline in the context of settler colonialism denotes Native people’s purposeful failure to conform to colonial standards of self-control; thus, indiscipline represents a refusal to internalize the disciplinary power that Indian assimilation policies are meant to enforce. My analysis of Sun Chief focuses on Talayesva’s practices of indiscipline that are rooted in their self-conception as twins. I begin with a reading of Talayesva’s return to Hopi land from boarding school as their journey back to a sovereign erotic. Next, I trace Talayesva’s experiences of discipline in colonial schools. Finally, I theorize the relevance of Talayesva’s descriptions of being twins twisted into one for Two-Spirit theories of the erotic.

“Free to Make Love without Fear”: Talayesva’s Journey to a Sovereign Erotic

Talayesva was born in the Hopi village of Oraibi in 1890, during the height of the federal Indian assimilation policy era, and attended Oraibi Day School on the Hopi reservation from 1899 to 1901; Keams Canyon School, an Indian boarding school in Keams Canyon, Arizona, from 1901 to 1906; and Sherman Indian Institute, an off-reservation Indian boarding school in Riverside, [End Page 105] California, from 1906 to 1909. Talayesva felt that their ten years of colonial schooling, most of which they spent in residential institutions far from their homeland and community, compromised their Hopi identity. As they prepare to return to Hopi land at nearly twenty years of age, Talayesva contemplates their time at colonial schools: “I thought about my school days and all that I had learned. [Some of it] was good . . . But . . . I wanted to become a real Hopi again, to sing the good old Katcina songs, and to feel free to make love without fear of sin or a rawhide” (141). Talayesva’s personal experience of being a “real Hopi” includes practicing the spiritual tradition of performing as a katsina18 in ceremonies and enjoying sexual autonomy unhindered by the fear of corporal or divine punishment to which they were subjected in Indian boarding schools. Talayesva’s pairing of spirituality and sexuality as related aspects of “real” Hopiness conjures up the arguments of Two-Spirit scholars who claim that settler colonial discipline segregates Native peoples’ sexuality and spirituality.

Sun Chief depicts Talayesva’s return from Indian boarding school to Hopi land and spiritual traditions as, to use Driskill’s phrase, a journey to a sovereign erotic that heals the damage that had resulted from their subjection to assimilative discipline at Indian boarding schools. During their home return journey, Talayesva has sex with a Hopi girl they had been seeing while at the Sherman Institute. Talayesva says, “I was not afraid to do it, because we were back among our own people” (140). Krupat’s analysis of this scene quips, “Of course he [sic] had shown little hesitation engaging in sexual adventures while away” at Indian boarding school.19 While Talayesva found opportunities to act on their sexual desires while institutionalized, the key distinction here is their absence of fear when “back among [their] own people.” Whereas colonial school authorities inflicted fear of punishment on students in an attempt to enforce sexual abstinence, Talayesva relishes the freedom “to make love without fear.”

Talayesva’s return to their homeland and spiritual traditions restores their sovereign erotic by reuniting their spirituality and sexuality. Shortly after returning to Hopi land from Sherman, Talayesva meets a lover in a neighboring village, and “they lost no time in preliminaries after weeks of restraint” (179). While resting together, Talayesva tells their partner about their recent ceremonial performances. In that moment, Talayesva realizes, “I was happy now to be a Hopi, and would never again feel ashamed to be an Indian with red skin” (179). This scene of lovemaking after emancipation from boarding school juxtaposes Talayesva’s return to their homeland and Hopi spiritual community with the return of their unfettered sexual pleasure. These returns [End Page 106] exorcise the intertwined racial and sexual shame they had internalized at Indian boarding schools. Sun Chief’s representation of Talayesva’s erotic wholeness, or reintegration of spirituality and sexuality, foregrounds Hopi knowledges and endorses an Indigenous erotic. As I show, the resilience of Talayesva’s self-conception as twins guides their journey through colonial schools and back to a sovereign erotic.

“I Was a Twin . . . and . . . Refused to Part”: Talayesva’s Indiscipline in Colonial Schools

Talayesva’s autobiography depicts the Indian boarding school system’s assault on their sovereign erotic through settler colonial discipline. While a reading of the oppressiveness of colonial institutions is not novel, it is still necessary, as the structure of settler colonialism remains in place and continues to inflict what Geraldine King calls “heteronormative harm” on Indigenous peoples.20 My readings of Talayesva’s experience of discipline in Indian schools focus on Talayesva’s resistant practice of what I call indiscipline.

Talayesva’s practice of indiscipline begins when they assert their sense of bodily autonomy as a condition of first entering the Oraibi Day School. Among Hopis in Talayesva’s village of Oraibi, the oldest and largest of the twelve Hopi villages, two major factions disagreed about the issue of how to respond to colonial incursion. The US government gave the factions military names: the progressive “Friendlies” and traditionalist “Hostiles.” Although Talayesva’s family belonged to the Hostiles faction, which generally opposed the colonial schooling of Hopi children, Talayesva and their siblings eventually attended Indian schools. Rather than be kidnapped by US soldiers or truancy officers and forced to attend school as many Hopi children of Hostiles parents were, Talayesva tells that they attended the Oraibi Day School willingly and without escort. When Talayesva was nine years old, they walked alone to the Mennonite mission school at the foot of third mesa. Talayesva “did not want [their] shirt taken from [their] back and burned,” as was part of the day school orientation process, so they went to school wearing only a Navajo blanket (95). Talayesva’s unprovoked appearance at the day school surprises the teacher, who “praised [them] again and again for coming to school without a policeman” (95). The standard procedure of inducting Native children into colonial schools included a series of events designed to discipline students by transforming them into what Michel Foucault calls docile bodies: cut off their long hair; bathe them in immodest and often painful ways, for example, using harsh disinfectants and [End Page 107] delousing chemicals; burn their original clothing and dress them in Western clothes; take away their possessions, and so on. By choosing to attend the school without the force of an escort and refusing to wear clothes that school administrators would confiscate and burn, Talayesva resists subjection to colonial discipline and exerts their sense of bodily autonomy.

After two years at the Oraibi Day School, Talayesva’s parents decide that Talayesva would attend the federal off-reservation boarding school in Keams Canyon, Arizona. Talayesva’s parents were experiencing poverty as a result of settler oppression, and the government gave bribes of farming tools, clothing, and other goods to parents who enrolled their children in the school. To help their parents, Talayesva consented to attend Keams Canyon.

Although Talayesva endured physical, mental, and spiritual harm at the boarding school, they do not depict their self as a powerless victim. Rather, Sun Chief abounds with humor. Throughout their autobiography, Talayesva couches their critiques of the boarding schools, and settler colonial culture more broadly, in jokes. For example, Talayesva remembers that during lunch in the dining room a school employee “spoke a few words to god, but failed to offer him any food ” (100). Readers familiar with Hopi culture will recognize Talayesva’s jab at Christians who consider themselves more holy than pagan Hopis but “fail” to show sufficient reverence to their deity. Indeed, Talayesva’s critique of hypocritical Christians who fail to practice what they preach is somewhat of a theme in the narrative. A beloved joke in Sun Chief appears in a section in which Talayesva recounts a list of lessons they learned at Keams Canyon: “I had also learned that a person thinks with his head instead of his heart” (104).21 This quip pokes fun at the heartlessness of white people who promote rationalism and deny that emotions contain information and convey knowledge. The Western philosophical segregation of emotions from intellect lies at the core of settler colonial US culture and governance, including the unfeeling colonial schooling system that dispossesses Indian parents of their children to assimilate them.22

Indian boarding schools operated through discipline, which Foucault theorized as a mode of governance “in which the central instrument is the institution and its target the embodied individual.”23 Talayesva critiques the military-style regimentation of Native students’ bodily functions, which they assert go against nature: “One is to eat meals at appointed times regardless of whether one is hungry or not, and go to bed at a certain time regardless of whether one is tired or not.”24 The primary function of disciplinary institutions is to “mold the body into a ‘docile’ subject whose labor may easily be [End Page 108] extracted.”25 To transform Native students into docile bodies, school authorities inflicted corporal punishment. On Talayesva’s first day at Keams Canyon boarding school, their friend Nash and they “arrived late” to supper, and while Talayesva escaped punishment because they were new, the disciplinarian “struck Nash twice on the buttocks” for failing to be on time (101). When Talayesva hit “a boy who hit me first,” Talayesva’s teacher punishes them for their self-defensiveness by making them “stand in a corner with my left arm raised high above my head for a full half-hour” (108). Talayesva and “a deskmate” were punished for talking “too much” by being made to “chew a piece of laundry soap until foam came out of our mouths” (108). Talayesva describes being beaten for playing and having fun. Although Talayesva says they only “played jokes on the teachers . . . on days when they seemed happy,” the “disciplinarian paddled” Talayesva especially hard once for “draping a white sheet around [their] body and pretending to be Jesus” (110). Talayesva continues to express their autonomy in whatever limited way possible. When Talayesva refused to perform in a debate competition at the school, the “assistant disciplinarian . . . offered me a choice between debating and getting a thrashing,” and rather than be compelled to do something they did not want to do, Talayesva chooses the thrashing, which was brutal—“about fifteen blows with a rawhide in a heavy hand”—and caused them to cry and kept him “sore for several days” (137). Talayesva’s choice of punishment over compliance instantiates their practice of indiscipline.

Perhaps the most prominent aspects of student life that Indian boarding schools sought to discipline were gender and sexuality. For more than fifty years, Indigenous feminist theorists have insisted that “settler colonialism has been and continues to be a gendered process.”26 Indigenous studies scholars “increasingly argue that . . . sexuality, gender, and race” are “key arenas of the power of the settler state,”27 which enacts laws and policies designed to force Native peoples to conform to Euro-American conventions including heteronormativity and heteropatriarchy. Colonial schools’ process of transforming Indian children to appear and behave as white people involved training them to conform to standards of heteronormativity, to become masculine boys and feminine girls through a process Katrina Paxton calls “gender assimilation.”28 Disciplinarians policed students’ clothing, hair styles, deportment, and conduct according to Euro-American models of femininity and masculinity.

Indian boarding schools implemented a sexual division of curricula and manual labor and spatially segregated boys and girls in dormitories, classrooms, cafeterias, and chapels. Talayesva recounts learning Protestant sexual mores, [End Page 109] for example, “boys shouldn’t go naked in the presence of girls, and boys and girls shouldn’t swim together.”29 School policy prohibited sexual behavior among students, and authorities inflicted corporal punishment on students who engaged in what they deemed “sexual misconduct.” Sun Chief narrates an occasion at Keams Canyon School when a matron caught one “of the larger boys . . . in a girl’s room,” which he had entered by “climb[ing] through a window into the girls’ dormitory . . . to sleep with his sweetheart” (103). In Talayesva’s account, the matron caused the boy to break down and give her “a long list of names” of thirty other Hopi boys who had also snuck into the girls’ dormitory (103). The next morning, the superintendent called the boys and their girlfriends to step out of the breakfast line. Talayesva tells how the superintendent “locked them up without any food” in a “room upstairs” from which the schoolchildren in the dining hall “heard strapping. Each boy received from fifteen to thirty lashes with a rawhide, the number depending on his age,” and this whipping took place “in the presence of the girls” (103). The girls “were then taken to another room and paddled” (103). The superintendent’s starvation, isolation, and physical abuse of students who acted on their sexual desires constitute routine methods through which Native children at boarding schools were, to use Driskill’s phrase, “stolen from [their] bodies.”30 Talayesva describes the traumatizing effect that this punitive exhibition had on the young students who witnessed it, explaining that “we felt like a flock of sheep huddled together in a corner of a big corral after the wolves have been among them” (103). In the wake of the mass whipping of their schoolmates, Talayesva and their peers feel dehumanized by the superintendent’s threat of physical violence. Talayesva’s use of simile draws on their Hopi knowledge of sheepherding to convey their feelings of intimidation and powerlessness and implicitly critiques the superintendent for wolfish brutality.

Adolescents sneaking around to have sex and being punished for so-called sexual misconduct may not be unique to Indian boarding schools at the time, nor is it in itself evidence of a Hopi sovereign erotic even if administrators may have framed the students’ behavior as due to a lack of Christian morality. However, the school’s attempted suppression of students’ sexual behavior hampered the relative sexual freedom that young Hopi people enjoyed in their homeland. Premarital sex was not verboten among Hopis, especially in cases of committed courtship. The autobiography of Edmund Nequatewa, a Hopi who was ten years Talayesva’s senior, corroborates Sun Chief’s account that boys at Keams Canyon School “would call on their girls at night” and explains that this “was customary with the Hopi.”31 The Hopi custom to which Nequatewa refers is [End Page 110] dumaiya, in which teenage Hopi boys “go to call on the girl of their choice, sometimes by pre-arrangement, and sometimes on the mere chance of getting a favorable reception.”32 Nequatewa claims that the school boys’ sleepovers in the girls’ dormitory “must have always been planned ahead” because “the girls had hung down their sheets” from the windows “to pull up the boys.”33 Nequatewa clarifies that the boys were only able to enter the girls’ dormitory with the girls’ aid, providing an important account of the girls’ own sexual desire and agency. Hopi students’ practice of customary courting behavior at Indian school enacts indiscipline and asserts “cultural identity unacceptable to mainstream American mores.”34 The superintendent’s infliction of corporal punishment for the students’ practice of dumaiya queers and criminalizes Hopi culture and imposes Eurocentric standards of sexual morality.35 Hopi students’ pursuit of pleasure performed indiscipline, a political act of defiance of the school’s prohibition of sexual activity.

Talayesva writes freely and in detail about the sexual pleasures they enjoy with their schoolmates. During Talayesva’s fourth year at Keams Canyon, they begin to court a student named Louise. When Talayesva and Louise first become sexually involved, they hide to avoid punishment: “I moved with her gently into the pantry, and locked the door. The little room was crowded and we had to stand and be quick; but she knew what to expect and seemed experienced. It was the first time that I had found and given real pleasure in love-making” (117).36 Louise and Talayesva decide to marry each other the following fall, and Talayesva has a meeting with the new superintendent during which they insist on their right to enjoy sexual relations with their partner: “I told him that Louise and I had an agreement to marry . . . and that it was my right to have intercourse with her. I was not afraid to say this because I knew that for Hopi lovers who are engaged this is the proper thing. The superintendent agreed partly, but he insisted that ‘education is more important,’ and said that Louise would have to leave [school] if she became pregnant” (118). Rather than follow the school’s sexual abstinence policy, Talayesva successfully argues for their sovereign right to practice Hopi courting traditions.

Talayesva’s narration of their pleasurable sexual experiences at Indian boarding school performs indiscipline in the face of colonial schools’ prohibition of sexual behavior among students. Indigenous feminist and queer theorists argue that erotica, or writing about sex, is a site of resistance to colonial heteropatriarchy.37 According to King, Indigenous authors write about sex to “take back our bodies to unravel the very essence of settler oppression,” including “acts of disciplining our bodies . . . to occupy the land.”38 Talayesva’s inclusion of [End Page 111] pleasurable sexual experiences at Indian boarding schools demonstrates that, despite the schools’ repressive policies and violent environment, Talayesva and other students found ways to exert their sexual agency and bodily sovereignty. Talayesva’s narration of moments of joy won through their practice of indiscipline resists the harmful rhetoric of Indian conquest and champions Native students’ methods of survival.

While Indigenous writing that represents the “embodied experience of desire” is “endemic to Indigenous histories of resistance” to settler colonialism, Native traditions of erotic storytelling predate settler incursion.39 In The Queerness of Native American Literature, Lisa Tatonetti writes that Indigenous oral and written literary traditions commonly contain “overt eroticism”; in particular, trickster stories often “humorously or matter-of-factly reference sex, the erotic, desire, and/or genitalia.”40 As Drew Hayden Taylor notes in the introduction to their collection of Indigenous erotica titled Me Sexy: An Exploration of Native Sex and Sexuality, the most common discussions of Native sexuality appear in a “negative context. Sexual abuse in residential schools. Native hookers being killed. AIDS rates reaching epidemic proportions in many First Nations communities. Et cetera.”41 While the ongoing settler colonial legacies of sexual assault and gendered violence continue to afflict Native communities, Taylor suggests that we must also attend to “Romance. Passion. Sex. [and] Erotica” to combat “misinformation or erroneous beliefs . . . regarding . . . Aboriginal peoples” who “have all been intimately familiar with our delightful practices of passion” even though “members of the dominant culture” often perceive Native peoples as mere victims or “tragic” figures who are “basically oppressed, depressed and suppressed.”42 As Taylor asserts, to write and read Indigenous erotica is to engage with stories about “honesty, love and survival.”43

Talayesva writes about other students’ defiance of school rules prohibiting sexual behavior, including masturbation. When Talayesva attended Sherman Indian Institute, the school hosted representatives from the Young Men’s Christian Association who told the students that masturbation was sinful and distributed pamphlets that claimed masturbation causes diseases and mental disorders. Despite these manipulative scare tactics, Talayesva notes that the boys in the dormitory kept “doing it right along” and writes about watching “some of the boys masturbate until they ejaculated” (123, 109). Talayesva states, “Sometimes we played a little with each other,” but when one “boy wanted [Talayesva] to pretend that [they were] a girl with him,” they “did not want to do it” (109). Talayesva’s use of the words played and pretend affirms the students’ understanding of sex as harmless, natural, and fun rather than evil, criminal, or dangerous. [End Page 112]

As a result of their involvement with the YMCA, Talayesva reports suffering a sense of subjective fragmentation and racial dysphoria: “At that time I was half-Christian and half-heathen and often wished that there were some magic that could change my skin into that of a white man” (123). This anxiety is so strong that Talayesva repeats that they “again wished that there was some way to turn myself into a white man” (125). Krupat claims that Talayesva’s internalized racism represents “a clear triumph, at least for the moment, of the ethnocidal and assimilationist aims of the boarding schools.”44 Contrary to Talayesva’s self-conception as twins twisted into one, an abundant erotic wholeness that comprises being two-in-one, the liminal position of being “half-Christian and half-heathen,” suspended in the process of coercive assimilation, causes Talayesva to feel incomplete and lacking. The white supremacist environment of the school and surrounding settler colonial community may have induced Talayesva to feel ashamed of being an “Indian.” In the absence of race-changing magic, Talayesva adopts the white man’s dress and hairstyle in an attempt to conform to white standards of masculinity, demonstrating their understanding of the imbrication of race and gender as social constructs. Despite Talayesva’s efforts, their inherent twinness hinders their ability to “turn . . . into a white man” or assimilate to heteronormative white society. Talayesva explains, “I had my hair cut in the American style,” but I “parted it on the left side instead of in the center, because I was a twin with two whorls instead of one and my hair refused to part in the center” (119).45 Talayesva’s twinness, manifest in their head’s “two whorls” and their intractable hair’s refusal to part straight down the center of their head, is inextricable from their Hopi-ness, unchangeable as the color of their skin.

In addition to internalized racism, Talayesva also experiences recurring nightmares while away at Indian boarding schools. The psychological distress that induces these dreams seems to stem from the schools’ daily denial of Talayesva’s being twins twisted into one. Talayesva recalls first having this nightmare while at Keams Canyon School, and they continued to have this dream throughout their years at Sherman. “I dreamed of making love to [a girl]; but when I examined her closely I would discover that she was a boy. Then I would wake up and spit four times, feeling that an evil spirit had played a bad joke on me” (108). Talayesva describes ritually purifying themselves upon awakening from this dream, demonstrating their fear of the dream’s effect on their lived reality. A second description of this dream indicates that the girl-who-was-a-boy’s seemingly dual sex is congenital: “I had wet dreams . . . and continued to dream occasionally of a girl in bed with me who always turned [End Page 113] out to be a boy. I would ask her, ‘How long have you been this way?’ She would say, ‘From my birth.’ I would stop caressing her and say, ‘I don’t think I can have intercourse with you’” (117). Talayesva claims that the dream girl “always turned out to be a boy” presumably because they “discover” that she has a penis when they “examined her closely.” However, after Talayesva discovers the girl’s male genitalia and therefore asserts that “she was a boy,” they continue to also refer to her as a “girl” and use the feminine pronouns “her” and “she,” recognizing that the girl’s spirit, way of being, or what we might call gender, is not determined by her genitals. Upon discovering the girl’s male anatomy, Talayesva hesitates to cease “making love to . . . her,” saying noncommittally, “I don’t think I can have intercourse with you,” an uncertain statement that seems somewhat like an apology or a question. Talayesva states, “I always felt disappointed in making this discovery, and when I awoke I wondered if I would be as unlucky in getting a girl,” and assures readers, “I was not” (117). Perhaps Talayesva’s disappointment results from their internalization of the colonial schools’ demand of heteronormativity to which, as twins twisted into one, they cannot entirely conform.

Sabine Lang claims that Talayesva experienced “recurrent homosexual dreams.”46 Naming Talayesva’s dreams as “homosexual” elides their identity as twins, foreclosing an interpretation based on Hopi knowledge and instead reentrenching Kluckhohn’s and Hine’s decades-old assertions of Talayesva’s “latent homosexuality.”47 At this point in the narrative, Talayesva has already disclosed their engagement in sex play with their male dorm mates, so it is the dream girl’s seemingly dual sex, not her penis itself, that causes Talayesva’s panic and distress. I suspect that the dream-girl-who-was-a-boy represents Talayesva’s twin sister/self, stifled and denied in their waking life at the boarding school. Perhaps the anxiety manifest in Talayesva’s nightmares stems from their inability to part with or split from their twinness and assimilate to heteronormative gender standards.

Despite the physical, mental, and emotional harm Talayesva endured as a result of Indian assimilation policy and gender and sexuality discipline in particular, Talayesva retained their self-conception as twins twisted into one throughout their time at colonial schools and for the rest of their life. Their resilient retention of their dual identity guided their journey back to a sovereign erotic. In the final section, I trace the origins of Talayesva’s relational selfhood and suggest how Talayesva’s narrative of being twins twisted into one may be pertinent to Two-Spirit theories of the erotic. [End Page 114]

Twins Twisted into One: Relational Selfhood and Two-Spirit Theories of the Erotic

Talayesva’s self-conception as twins twisted into one arises from their Hopi community’s stories of their prenatal, infantile, and childhood existence in addition to their own experiences. Sun Chief’s first chapter, titled “Twins Twisted into One,” opens with Talayesva’s claim that “when we were within our mother’s womb, we happened to hurt her. She has told me how she went to a medicine man in her pain. He . . . told her that we were twins” (25). When Talayesva’s mother tells the Hopi doctor that she wants only one baby, the doctor replies, “‘Then I will put them together’”; he makes an offering to the sun, and then “he spun some black and white wool, twisted the threads into a string, and tied it around my mother’s left wrist. It is a powerful way to unite babies” (25). Talayesva’s assertion that the Hopi doctor’s ceremony “is a powerful way to unite” twin fetuses indicates that this procedure and the phenomenon of babies born as twins twisted into one are well known among Hopis. Talayesva continues, “We twins began, likewise, to twist ourselves into one child. My mother also helped to bring us together by her strong wish for only one baby” (25). Talayesva’s autobiography begins with a retelling of their mother’s story about her pregnancy, breaking the genre’s convention of starting with the time and place of one’s birth. The customary “I was born” opener epitomizes the autobiography genre’s presumption of an independent individual author who writes their life story as they singularly experienced and remember it. Instead, Sun Chief introduces Talayesva as inherently relational; the will and actions of their mother and the Hopi doctor engendered their essence as twins twisted into one.

In the early moments after Talayesva’s birth, their dual essence is legible on their body. Talayesva’s father, grandfather, and mother’s midwife examine the newborn closely and confirm, “Sure enough, I was twins twisted into one. They could see that I was an oversize baby, that my hair curled itself into two little whorls instead of one at the back of my head, and that in front of my body I was a boy but at the back there was the sure trace of a girl—the imprint of a little vulva that slowly disappeared” (27). Talayesva’s community regards their twinness as an auspicious spiritual gift that equips them with special powers. Talayesva declares, “Almost everyone praised my mother, made hopeful remarks about me, and predicted that I would become a good hunter, a fine herder, and perhaps a powerful healer, for I was a special baby—twins twisted into one” (33). The people’s predictions of Talayesva’s healing powers suggest [End Page 115] their future responsibilities to their community. Regarding their specialness, Talayesva continues,

There was no doubt about this, for they could see the two whorls of hair on the back of my head, and those present at my birth told others how large and double-sexed I looked when fresh from the womb. All knew that such babies are called antelopes because these animals are usually born twins. It was anticipated, therefore, that I would have a special power to protect myself, do many strange things before the people, and be able to heal certain diseases, even as a boy. My mother, father, and grandfather made careful note of these signs and sayings and were prepared to fill my mind with them as soon as I could know anything.


Although Talayesva’s initially “double-sexed” appearance apparently morphed into phenotypical maleness, their community’s continuous regard for them as twins twisted into one demonstrates that Talayesva’s self-conception is an inherently relational subjectivity. Talayesva understands their self as twins twisted into one, in part, because of the stories with which their community “fill[s] [their] mind” rather than because their body retains physical evidence of their twin sister’s spirit within them.

Talayesva’s embodiment of twined male and female twins is neither a gender identity nor a sexual orientation, both of which are recent biomedical constructs; rather, it is a source of spiritual power and knowledge, a sovereign erotic rooted in Hopi land, cosmology, and community responsibilities. Talayesva narrates their family’s stories of their “strange” behavior as a child, which served as proof of their specialness. “Before I was two I climbed high on a top shelf to the surprise of my parents, who said no ordinary child could do that. . . . My grandfather cautioned her, ‘You know he [sic] is twins formed into one. He [sic] has a special power.’ . . . It seemed that I could go anywhere without getting hurt, because of my antelope powers” (37). According to their parents, Talayesva “had special power to protect myself” and often wandered around the village unsupervised (38). When Talayesva was “perhaps five” years old, they write, “I would wander off a mile or two from the village to a place where sunflowers grew and where it was known that the spirits of deer and antelope gathered. . . . I would return home . . . with the juice of the sunflowers spread around my mouth. My grandfather or parents would remark that I had been feasting with my relatives and would probably use my special power soon to heal some poor person who was sick and unable to urinate” (69–70). While Talayesva’s twinness grants them a special power “to heal such diseases,” their grandfather teaches them to care for people with specific maladies of the pubic region through prayer, massage, and other means (70). By the time Talayesva had reached six years, they say, “I had made a name for myself by healing people” (73). [End Page 116]

The Hopi anthropologist Emory Sekaquaptewa corroborates the Hopi belief in twins’ special powers in an interpretation of a Hopi katsina song called “Angaktsìntawi,” the lyrics of which, translated into English, refer to a “double-headed ear of corn.”48 Sekaquaptewa explains that “the katsinas refer to a double-headed ear of corn (mookwa), a reference to two ears of corn that develop from a single stem. The joined-at-the-base feature may be a metaphorical reference . . . to twins and their special powers, making this a suggestion from the katsinas that special powers of this sort are needed to revitalize the people.”49 Sekaquaptewa’s interpretation of this katsina song performs ethno-graphic refusal by omitting an explanation of the “sort” of “special powers” that “twins” possess.50 Nevertheless, it seems clear that Sekaquaptewa indicates an association between the two-in-one phenomenon and twins in Hopi thought.51

It may be tempting to interpret twins twisted into one as a Hopi version of so-called third gender traditions. M. Kay Martin and Barbara Voorhies introduced the term third gender in 1975 “to draw attention to the ethnographic evidence that gender categories in some cultures could not be adequately explained with a two-gender framework.”52 This presupposes that what anthropologists observed among Native communities was, in fact, “gender”—a kind or sort of person determined by biological sex characteristics. Subsequent scholars began to apply the term third gender “to behaviors that transcended or challenged dyadic male-female codes or norms” and to societies “that seemed to provide institutionalized ‘intermediate’ gender concepts and practices.”53 Anthropologists have documented the existence of third gender or multiple gender systems in hundreds of Native American tribes, including the Hopi.54 Lang generalizes that “women-men and men-women were . . . esteemed” among the Hopi.55 What is useful about the third-gender configuration is its acknowledgment of cultures that do not construct “gender” based on an over-determined sex binary that ignores biodiversity in humans/nature. Although such scholarship has raised academic awareness of nonbinary “gender” among Indigenous societies, it nevertheless perpetuates colonial erasures of Native ways of knowing when it distorts Indigenous erotics by conflating them with Euro-American formulations of gender.

Indigenous scholars have “long insisted on understanding Indigenous modes of gender as fundamentally different from Western norms” and suggest that a return to “historic concepts of gender complementarity and balance could be an appropriate path toward decolonization.”56 Talayesva is not a third-gender person but twins twisted into one. Talayesva’s twinness deconstructs the singularity of gender per se, a singularity that is carried through in the notion of [End Page 117] a third gender. Tracy Bear claims that a fundamental, reoccurring element of Indigenous erotic literature and art is a representation of gender as multiple, or “genderful” as Bear terms it, rather than singular and limited by the sex/gender binary.57 The phrase twins twisted into one seems to render into English Talayesva’s sense of their genderful selfhood, a Hopi way of being and knowing that is incommensurable with Western understandings of gender and sexuality.

Since 1990, many Indigenous people have used the term Two-Spirit to name current iterations of Native traditions that defy gender categorical distinctions, cross boundaries, and exemplify the fluidity of duality in nature.58 The term Two-Spirit critiques anthropological scholarship based on “colonial and western notions of gender and sexuality” and creates “a distinct link between histories of diversity and Indigenous GLBTQ2 people today.”59 By creating a name in English that distinguishes Indigenous traditions from Western sex and gender identity politics, Two-Spirit people insist on a difference between Natives and settlers that recognizes Indigenous peoples as such in the face of attempted settler-colonial erasure through conquest or assimilation. The Two-Spirit movement addresses the “problem of non-Indians” equating “Indigenous [Two-Spirit] practices” with their “queer [LGBTIQ] identities,” which they presume are “universal.”60 However, as Tatonetti notes, by definition, “queer names a subjectivity or practice that diverges from dominant norms. . . . What we term, for lack of better words, ‘gender nonconformity,’ ‘gender variance,’ ‘homosexuality,’ or ‘third or fourth gender practices’ would not have been queer in original contexts and may not be queer today in certain Indigenous communities” whose understandings of what we call “gender” in English are not founded on the objectification of sex and denial of biodiversity, which uphold the illusion of a sex/gender binary.61

It may be useful to interpret “twins twisted into one” as a Hopi Two-Spirit subjectivity. Sun Chief’s account of Talayesva’s relational selfhood suggests that, like many other Indigenous peoples, the Hopi recognized, accepted, and celebrated “nonbinary” people. Unlike “third gender,” Two-Spirit encompasses the assemblage of embodiment, spirituality, community responsibility, and relationships to land and nonhuman animals, such as antelopes, that Talayesva’s relational self-conception entails. Whether or not Talayesva was a Two-Spirit person as we understand the modern term, their autobiography provides a model of a sovereign erotic and decolonizing praxis of indiscipline that may be useful for contemporary Two-Spirit readers. Talayesva’s narration of their self-conception as twins, their Hopi sovereign erotic, and their sexual pleasure performs indiscipline in the face of academic attempts to consume [End Page 118] Indigenous culture through (mis)interpretation of what is untranslatable and incommensurable.

In one of the text’s appendices, Simmons claims that it is a “fact that [Talayesva] was born anatomically male, not female.”62 This palimpsestic elision of Talayesva’s stated existence as twins twisted into one and the community’s acknowledgment of them as “double-sexed” at birth enforces conformity to the either-or structure of the binary sex/gender system. Twins twisted into one is both an embodied and a spiritual existence, not either-or. After Talayesva’s sister’s vulva “disappeared,” their twin’s spirit remains within them. Reading Talayesva as Two-Spirit may help to recover their self-conception as twins twisted into one from settler colonial academic erasure.

Alicia Carroll

Alicia Carroll is assistant professor of comparative literature at the University of California, Irvine, specializing in Native American and Indigenous studies and queer theory. Carroll has published essays on Native American autobiography, Two-Spirit/queer Indigenous studies, and settler colonialism. They are completing their first book project, “Indiscipline: Queering Native American Autobiography.”


Earlier versions of this essay were presented at the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association Conference and the Critical Ethnic Studies Association Conference. I wish to express my gratitude to Jennifer Doyle, Gabriel Estrada, Rebecca “Monte” Kugel, Stephen Moldrem, Scott Morgensen, Michelle Raheja, and Hertha D. Sweet Wong for offering constructive comments on various drafts of the essay.

1. Clyde Kluckhohn, “Review of Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian,” American Anthropologist 45.2 (1943): 267–70; David Aberle, The Psychosocial Analysis of a Hopi Life-History, Comparative Psychology Monographs 21.1, serial no. 107 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951).

2. Arnold Krupat, Changed Forever: American Indian Boarding-School Literature, vol. 1 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2018), 49.

3. Although previous scholars have used the masculine pronouns (he/him/his), throughout this essay I use they/them/their as gender-neutral third-person singular pronouns to refer to Talayesva (the historical person and the literary protagonist of Sun Chief). The use of singular they as a gender-neutral personal pronoun has become popular among English-speaking transgender and genderqueer or nonbinary people; it was chosen as the 2019 word of the year by Merriam-Webster’s, which defines they as a pronoun used to refer to a person whose gender identity is nonbinary. I do not mean to designate Talayesva as transgender or nonbinary, subjectivities that arise from Western identity politics. I contend that, despite Merriam-Webster’s definition, the gender-neutral pronoun they can apply to anyone regardless of how they identify. Furthermore, Talayesva’s Hopi language does not have gendered pronouns that would translate to the English he/him/his or she/her/hers; rather, Hopi has a third-person pronoun that is used to refer to any person or thing. Therefore the use of masculine pronouns to reference Talayesva imposes a binary sex/gender system of thought and speech and, I argue, misappropriates Talayesva’s self-conception as twins twisted into one as a solely masculine subjectivity. By using they as a gender-neutral pronoun, I seek to divest from the colloquial imposition of the masculine–feminine binary and individualized subjectivity onto Indigenous peoples.

4. Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, “Foreword to the Second Edition,” in Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian, by Don C. Talayesva (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013), xii, xiv. Hereafter cited in the running text.

5. Peter Whiteley, “Review of Born a Chief: The Nineteenth-Century Hopi Boyhood of Edmund Nequatewa,” Ethnohistory 41 (1994): 478.

6. Geraldine King, “‘How Do You Say I Love You in Ojibwe?’: Embodying Resurgent Desires and Sexualities,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, December 21, 2015,

7. Qwo-Li Driskill, “Stolen from Our Bodies: First Nations Two-Spirits/Queers and the Journey to a Sovereign Erotic,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 16.2 (2004): 51. Driskill’s theory of a sovereign erotic builds on earlier Indigenous feminist theories and has contributed to the development of queer Indigenous studies as a field, e.g., the “narrative of affiliation and relationship inherent in [Paula Gunn] Allen’s early concept of the erotic” as “body/land matrix” has become “a hallmark of queer Native studies” (Lisa Tatonetti, The Queerness of Native American Literature [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014], xxi). Theorizing the link between the erotic and Indigenous peoples’ sovereign right to self-determination, Driskill’s seminal essay takes up the Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde’s articulation of the erotic as a power that arises from “our deepest and nonrational knowledge,” a spiritual “resource” and “creative energy” that arises from a “depth of feeling” and acts as “a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings” (Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches [Berkeley, CA: Crossing, 2015], 53–55). While queer Indigenous theorists draw on Lorde’s theory of the erotic for its analytic force to disrupt the singularly sensual connotations of sexuality and reunite it with spirituality, there are key differences between Lorde’s influential work and the ways Indigenous authors attend to the erotic as a decolonizing methodology. Lorde spoke and wrote of the erotic in the context of the feminist pornography wars and explicitly against pornography as “sensation without feeling” (“Uses,” 54). Conversely, queer Indigenous writers and scholars argue that sexual explicitness in Indigenous literature and storytelling humanizes Native peoples and reclaims their bodily autonomy and sexual agency from settler colonial disciplinary institutions and policies that sought to restrict Native sexuality and reproductivity and destroy traditional nonheteronormative gender and kinship systems. Queer Indigenous studies scholars including Beth Brant, Driskill, Deborah Miranda, Mark Rifkin, Robert Warrior, and Craig Womack have all “discussed some version of what Miranda has termed the ‘Indigenous erotic’ and Driskill a ‘sovereign erotic,’” and as Tatonetti notes, the Indigenous “vision of the erotic as tied to land, nationhood, and political and sexual sovereignty is a key distinction between the erotic imaginaries in queer of color and Indigenous literatures and theories” (Queerness, xx).

8. Krupat, Changed, 2. Simmons’s introduction to the text explains that “in March, 1941, Don came to New Haven and spent two weeks with me. At this time the entire narrative . . . was read to him [sic] slowly and he [sic] made corrections and occasional comments which were incorporated. Don had then written about 8,000 pages of his [sic] diary in longhand. The account is, therefore, a highly condensed record in the first person, and almost always in Don’s own words or in words which he [sic] readily recognized in checking the manuscript. The report is . . . selected and condensed narration, interwoven with additional information obtained by repeated interviewing. It is greatly abbreviated and often reorganized” (Simmons, quoted in Talayesva, Sun Chief, 7–8).

9. Krupat and others claim that it was “Talayesva’s house”; however, in Hopi matriarchal culture all houses and farmlands are owned by women; therefore the house in which Talayesva hosted Titiev and Simmons belonged to Talayesva’s wife. In Sun Chief, Talayesva clarifies, “Irene appreciated the rent money” that Simmons paid her (340). Talayesva continued to work with scholars throughout their life. They were a key contributor to Harold Courlander’s collection of Hopi oral traditions, The Fourth World of the Hopis: The Epic Story of the Hopi Indians as Preserved in Their Legends and Traditions (1971; repr., Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987).

10. Kluckhohn, “Review,” 268.

11. Dian Million, Therapeutic Nations: Healing in an Age of Indigenous Human Rights (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2013), 31.

12. Arnold Krupat, For Those Who Come After: A Study of Native American Autobiography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 29.

13. Hertha Dawn Wong, Sending My Heart Back across the Years: Tradition and Innovation in Native American Autobiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 14.

14. Wong, Sending, 6. Wong’s strong generalizing claim is useful here; however, American Indian tribes do not all share “the same sense of identity,” and there “is no generic Indian sense of self” (6).

15. Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1.1 (2012): 1.

16. Tuck and Yang, 7.

17. Tuck and Yang, 30.

18. A katsina is a sacred clown in ritual ceremonies.

19. Krupat, Changed, 71.

20. King, “How.”

21. During a research trip to the Hopi reservation, I met with Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. When I told Leigh that I was writing about Sun Chief, he grinned and said, “Oh, that one has some good lines in it!” Then he quoted this joke from memory, laughed, and shook his head.

22. Dian Million describes settler colonialism as a system of “Western ‘rational’ governance” that converts “the processes of life, minute details, and biological facts . . . into data” for social scientists to assess Indigenous peoples’ “assimilation” or “ongoing degradation and deterioration,” rendering Indigenous lives into “numbers to track, to manage and define our difference in multiculturalism” (Therapeutic, 30).

23. Quoted in Greta LaFleur and Kyla Schuller, “Introduction: Technologies of Life and Architectures of Death in Early America,” American Quarterly 71.3 (2019): 603–24.

24. Krupat, Changed, 61–62.

25. LaFleur and Schuller, “Introduction,” 606.

26. Maile Arvin, Eve Tuck, and Angie Morrill, “Decolonizing Feminism: Challenging Connections between Settler Colonialism and Heteropatriarchy,” Feminist Formations 25.1 (2003): 9.

27. Chris Finley, “Decolonizing the Queer Native Body (and Recovering the Native Bull-Dyke): Bringing ‘Sexy Back’ and Out of Native Studies’ Closet,” in Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature, ed. Qwo-Li Driskill, Chris Finley, Brian Joseph Gilley, and Scott Lauria Morgensen (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2011), 31.

28. Katrina A. Paxton, “Learning Gender: Female Students at the Sherman Institute, 1907–1925,” in Boarding School Blues: Revisiting American Indian Educational Experiences, ed. Clifford E. Trafzer, Jean A. Keller, and Lorene Sisquoc (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), 174–86.

29. Krupat, Changed, 62.

30. Driskill, “Stolen.”

31. Edmund Nequatewa, Born a Chief: The Nineteenth Century Hopi Boyhood of Edmund Nequatewa, ed. P. David Seaman (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1993), 92.

32. Mischa Titiev, Old Oraibi: A Study of the Hopi Indians of Third Mesa (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992), 31.

33. Nequatewa, Born a Chief, 92.

34. Arnold Krupat, “Hopi Boarding-School Narratives: Edmund Nequatewa’s Born a Chief,” a/b: Auto/Biography Studies 33.1 (2018): 115.

35. This is not to say that Hopi people lacked sexual morality. Hopi prohibitions of sexual behavior mostly center on marital fidelity and abstinence surrounding spiritual ceremony.

36. While it is beyond the scope of this essay’s focus, a broader analysis of a sovereign erotic in Sun Chief might consider Talayesva’s treatment of desire and pleasure; consent and sexual assault; prostitution and sex work; methods of providing or receiving sex education; sexual content in Hopi mythology, cosmology, and ceremonies, etc.

37. See Deborah Miranda, “Dildos, Hummingbirds, and Driving Her Crazy: Searching for American Indian Women’s Love Poetry and Erotics,” Frontiers 23.2 (2002): 135–49. See also Driskill, “Stolen”; Finley, “Decolonizing”; and King, “How.”

38. King, “How.”

39. Tatonetti, Queerness, xx.

40. Tatonetti, 46.

41. Drew Hayden Taylor, Me Sexy: An Exploration of Native Sex and Sexuality (Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 2008), 3.

42. Taylor, 2.

43. Taylor, 3.

44. Krupat, Changed, 64.

45. I address the significance of the “two whorls” in the following section.

46. Sabine Lang, Men as Women, Women as Men: Changing Gender in Native American Cultures, trans. John L. Vantine (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998), 326.

47. See Kluckhohn, “Review,” 268; Lang, Men as Women, 326. Lang’s interpretation of Talayesva’s nightmares as “homosexual dreams” is confusing considering the fact that Lang had worked with Two-Spirit people like Wesley Thomas to establish Two-Spirit as a term for Native subjectivities and social positions that are incommensurable with Euro-American constructions of gender and sexuality. See Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Wesley Thomas, and Sabine Lang, eds., Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1997).

48. Emory Sekaquaptewa, Kenneth C. Hill, and Dorothy K. Washburn, Hopi Katsina Songs (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015), 249.

49. Sekaquaptewa, Hill, and Washburn, 250.

50. Audra Simpson defines ethnographic refusal as a practice by which researchers and research participants decide to omit certain information from academic use. See Simpson, “On Ethnographic Refusal: Indigeneity, ‘Voice,’ and Colonial Citizenship,” Junctures 9 (2007): 67–80.

51. It is likely that Hopi beliefs about the specialness and powerfulness of twins are founded in the characters of Pöqangwhoya and Palöngawhoya, the “War Twins” or “Hero Twins,” grandsons of Spider Old Woman in Hopi oral histories and cosmology. See Sekaquaptewa, Hill, and Washburn, Hopi, 239.

52. Evan B. Towle and Lynn M. Morgan, “Romancing the Transgender Native: Rethinking the Use of the ‘Third Gender’ Concept,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 8.4 (2002): 472.

53. Towle and Morgan, 472.

54. Will Roscoe, ed., “North American Tribes with Berdache and Alternative Gender Roles,” in Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology (New York: St. Martin’s, 1988), 217–22.

55. Lang, Men as Women, 317–18.

56. Arvin, Tuck, and Morrill, “Decolonizing Feminism,” 22.

57. Tracy Bear, “If This Is My Body, Where Are My Stories? A Praxis of an Indigenous Erotic Analysis” (paper presented at the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association conference, Vancouver, BC, June 23, 2017).

58. For a thorough overview of Two-Spirit history and thought, see Driskill et al., introduction to Queer Indigenous Studies, 1–28.

59. Driskill et al., 10.

60. Tatonetti, Queerness, xiv.

61. Tatonetti, xix.

62. Leo W. Simmons, “Concerning the Analysis of Life Histories,” in Talayesva, Sun Chief, 400.

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