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“Two Spirit” LGBT Advocate Vernon Renville Killed in Sisseton Shooting

Among the victims of the multiple shooting in Sisseton Saturday was Vernon Renville, Jr., also known as Vernon Redday. Lake Traverse Reservation newspaper Sota Iya Ye Yapi reports that Renville advocated for LGBT rights in Indian Country:

Vernon was a gentle giant of a young man, physically large and with an equally big heart. He was known for a sense of humor. And he’d volunteer for any walk or campaign to bring awareness to some of the most important problems on the Lake Traverse Reservation. Whether it was awareness of domestic violence, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, prejudice/racism, you-name-it. And he was a strong voice for the LGBT community. His brothers and sisters of the Two Spirit movement are mourning along with Vernon’s family and lots of other friends. We remember him during last winter’s Idle No More walk through snow-covered streets of Sisseton [CD Floro, "Tragedy in Sisseton: Young Oyate Lives Lost in Shooting," Sota Iya Ye Yapi Online, accessed 2014.11.24].

Two Spirit is an Anishinabe term. This social work sheet elaborates:

Two-Spirit is a Native American term that is usually used to indicate a person whose body simultaneously houses a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit. Two-Spirit is a Native concept: Will Roscoe writes that Two-Spirit people have been "documented in over 130 tribes, in every region of North America, among every type of native culture.” Different words are used for Two-Spirit people in different tribes, and the word Two-Spirit may have different meanings in different Native languages. Some tribes may not have a commonly known and used word for Two-Spirit people at this point in time.

Historically and culturally, Two-Spirit people were respected and honored by their tribes. Their gender roles in the community included protecting children; being parental/partners; helping in ceremonies; gathering food and medicine; caretaking; and serving as peacekeepers, name givers, and spiritual leaders. Due to oppression (including homophobia/transphobia) and historical and intergenerational trauma there are issues that may disproportionately impact Two-Spirit/Native LGBTQ people today [Tom Lidot and Lenny Hayes, "Sharing Our Lived Experiences," National Resource Center for Tribes and Tribal STAR, 2014].

Renville had to learn that history to understand his Two Spirit identity:

Renville struggled to find his place as a Two Spirit in his tribal community, but through prayer and asking his elders about the place they held in Dakota culture, he has found some wisdom. “I discovered that we weren't actually outcasts. We weren't shunned or anything, that we were actually highly-revered people and we were assassinated – I guess you could say – by the Europeans” [Alfred Walking Bull, "First S.D. Two Spirit Society Honors and Educates on the Reservation," The Circle, 2014.10.11].

Renville co-founded the new Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Two Spirit Society, the first such LGBT advocacy group in South Dakota's nine reservations:

Members of the newly-formed Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Two Spirit Society gathered on Sept. 26 to educate members of the tribe on LGBTQ Native issues while honoring one of their own who was killed earlier in the month.

The group – the first Two Spirit society in any of the nine reservations in South Dakota – began its mission in June of this year. A testament to the growing power of social media on the reservation, the event “Gay is OK” was the impetus for forming the society. “We all went out to the corner, stood outside and held signs. And while we were standing there, we talked about forming a society, so we set a meeting date and from then on, it's been going ever since,” Vernon Renville, society co-founder said [Walking Bull, 2014.10.11].

In Renville, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate has lost an organizer and a fighter for equality.


  1. larry kurtz 2014.11.25

    Warning: Sibby bait.

  2. Steve Sibson 2014.11.25

    "Two-Spirit is a Native American term that is usually used to indicate a person whose body simultaneously houses a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit."

    This is the monism that drives the pantheistic foundation to the New Age movement.

  3. Nick Nemec 2014.11.25

    And it begins.

  4. Nick Nemec 2014.11.25

    Could we set out a box propped up by a stick with a string tied to it?

  5. El Rayo X 2014.11.25

    Larry has his own place and Steve has his own place...When someone said why don't you two get a room, they didn't mean get one at Madville.

  6. larry kurtz 2014.11.25

    Waníyetu Wi — Moon of the Rutting Deer

  7. Lynn 2014.11.25

    It's depressing to read about what happened in Sisseton. What a painful loss for everyone in the community and that includes Colter Richard Arbach. I hope their spirits are at peace.

    I enjoyed the video of the Idle No More walk. It was beautiful!

    Two Spirits or called by another name in other cultures have been around for thousands of years.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.25

    Lynn, that video makes a fitting tribute to the spirit of the man lost.

  9. Steve Sibson 2014.11.25

    "Two Spirits or called by another name in other cultures have been around for thousands of years."

    Yes it has. In the Bible it is referred to as paganism.

  10. Lynn 2014.11.25

    Steve I'm sorry to disagree with you on this but I just don't see how a person's gender identity has anything to do with paganism.

  11. Steve Sibson 2014.11.25

    Lynn, using modern day labels such as "gender identity" causes confusion when discussing ancient cultures.

  12. Jenny 2014.11.25

    Steve, gay men and women are beautiful human beings. I have had the honor of knowing many of them in MN, and it brings me happiness to see a gay couple being able to get married and starting their life together. Why can't you feel happiness for that are in love with each other?

  13. Jenny 2014.11.25

    for 'people' that are in love with each other. I notice the culture changing here, where straight kids will stick up for their gay friends and it is such a heartwarming change to see.

  14. Jenny 2014.11.25

    Is his gender identity implying it was a hate crime?

  15. Steve Sibson 2014.11.25

    "Why can't you feel happiness for that are in love with each other?"

    When you were saved, the old sinful nature you had did not die. It is still there. The Bible calls it the flesh, old man, and the carnal (worldly) mind. When you were saved, your spirit became alive and functional. An unsaved man walks after the flesh-his spirit is dead. (Ephesians 2:1) A Christian has both the fleshly and the spiritual natures. That is where your battle comes in. Notice all the scriptures that mention these two natures inside of you [versus monism, see my previous comment]:

    Matthew 26:41, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

    Romans 7:14-25, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”

    Romans 8:5-7, “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”

    Romans 13:14, “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”

    Galatians 5:17-19, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,”

    Galatians 6:8, “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”

  16. larry kurtz 2014.11.25

    Kira at Bashi. Shaka, when the walls fell.

  17. JeniW 2014.11.25

    Steve, was that your long way around of saying "I do not want to be happy that two people are in love with each other, especially if it is between a couple who have the same gender."? :)

  18. Jenny 2014.11.25

    You can't spin the love thing, Sibster. Love is love and it's beautiful, strong, and powerful and very very human.

  19. WayneF 2014.11.25

    Steve Sibson:

    Go find another playground to be a bully at.

  20. Shirley Schwab 2014.11.25


    The lives of four young adults have been lost to a community that must be in unimaginable shock and grief.

    Today, young children are without their mothers and family members are suffering beyond what any of us can comprehend.

    Perhaps now is time to focus on prayers and support for a very devastated community and leave it at that.

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.25

    Irrelevance, irrelevance... and then Jenny mentions something relevant: could the gender identity of one of the victims have something to do with the nature of the crime?

    I've seen no evidence of that, and I haven't seen evidence that the other victims had some connection to the LGBT/Two Spirit community. But in the absence of any other public explanation for the crime yet, I do wonder if our diligent and thorough investigators are asking questions about this angle of the story.

    (Sibby, get off it. Write your own blog post.)

  22. Roger Cornelius 2014.11.25

    Prior to the Black Robes and other religious fanatics trying to bring "Christianity" to the Indians we had the Great Spirit or Creator, there was no Bible or Jesus Christ. Native Americans had a concentrated belief in their God and kept it simple. They survived quite well without the Bible or Jesus Christ, it took acts of genocide to start changing their beliefs and way of life.
    The Lakota culture revered their Two Spirit community, along with the many attributes gays have, as written by Cory, it was a high honor to be given the arts and crafts of a gay tribal member. They were widely noted for having the greatest artistic talents.
    Native American tribes didn't know of gay hate and the Steve Sibson's homophobia until Christianity invaded their world.

  23. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.25

    Roger, is that the assassination Renville was referring to?

  24. larry kurtz 2014.11.25

    Interesting read about shunning in Lakota history from James Giago Davies:

    "A logical science-based argument can be made the reproductive strategies of men and women are fundamentally diametric. The true price we pay for freedom is tolerance of differences, tolerance of threatening minorities who practice behaviors and advocate beliefs our intractable arbitrary belief systems find abhorrent. This is not just a humanist concept. Matthew 25:40: “And the King shall answer and say unto them, truly I say unto you, inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it unto me.”"

  25. Roger Cornelius 2014.11.25

    From what I understand of Two Spirit I believe it is, at least in part.
    The tragedy is that gay hate has crept into our Native communities and that the strongly held value of gays has been diminished by those bible loving Christians.

  26. Lynn 2014.11.25

    Roger I believe the same has happened in other cultures around the globe. It was not an issue until recent modern western civilization brought with it the discrimination and phobia with it. Otherwise from ancient Greece to fairly recent India it was not an issue.

  27. Lynn 2014.11.25

    I am glad that Vernon Redday and others in the Two Spirit movement were able to get guidance and support from the Tribal elders and community. That is invaluable and helps with their path to be whole and at peace.

  28. Roger Cornelius 2014.11.25

    I'm familiar with gay hate being fairly new innovations in other cultures that were isolated from Christianity, I don't know if those cultures were corrupted in the same manner Native tribes were.
    If Sibson's meaning of "being saved" is justification for hate and genocide, I prefer not to be saved.

  29. student 2014.11.25

    I had the honor and privilege of meeting Vernon a couple of months ago at a healing ceremony. We were both there as invited guests. He was a tremendous man and loved and cherished by all that knew him. The world lost a great man. His spirit will be carried on by many.

  30. Dustina 2014.11.25

    I am one of the many allies of the Two-Spirited Society and was there that day in June holding a sign like many of the others and listened to Vernon's words of the importance of creating such a society, so those feeling alienated or shunned because of homophobia others suffer from. We have made it our mission that Vernon's dream will come true and all idiotic and anti-gay comments will just make us work that much harder. He was a good good man with a huge heart and the brightest smile and never cast judgement on another.

  31. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.11.26

    I wish the best Dustina, and the same to all others of kindness and good will.

  32. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.26

    Your community's loss saddens me, Justina. You honor his memory by continuing his work.

  33. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.26

    "removes veil of safety"—don't we hear that line every time someone gets shot in South Dakota? We're jolted from our sense of insulation from evil, then we settle right back into it so we can recycle the same media pap the the next time someone starts shooting. We feign surprise at evil and random violence every time it pops up.

  34. Barry G, Wick 2014.12.02

    While others will preach this or that from some absurd book, I send my condolences to the family...and I am so sorry for your loss...very, very sorry. When I was an activist for civil and human rights for LGBT people...I learned a great deal about 2 spirit people....and in the case of the Lakota...Nakota and Dakota....the word was "winkte." From every one that I met, I learned something. And I learned about true South Dakota natives. These violent losses stain the floor beneath those who seek peaceful change in this world for all people...those who seek justice...those who seek equality. For his family, I am truly heartbroken.

  35. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.02

    Thanks for that eloquent expression of tribute and grief, Barry. Renville's death is a loss for an extended family.

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