In honor of Pride month, we highlight a hero whose life was dedicated—from birth—to bridging divides. This is the story of We'wha.
Born in 1849 to the North American Zuñi nation, We’wha was one of the most famous Zuñi lhamana, meaning Two-Spirit. Though a contemporary term, the Two-Spirit concept has deep roots within indigenous cultures. It refers to those individuals who occupy a more fluid gender role in their community, one that transgresses conventional notions of male and female. The Two-Spirit had an accepted place within native societies. Theirs was considered a sacred way of knowing.
We’wha is an exalted example of what it meant to be Two-Spirit. Trained in traditional crafts, her textiles and pottery were exquisite. Simultaneously, he performed masculine tribal roles like hunting and judicial functions. We'wha moved among all members of the Zuñi community. They not only accepted We’wha’s gender identity, but revered her gift for spiritual leadership.
We’wha was a bridge-builder across genders and between cultures. Having learned English at an early age, We’wha became a liaison to the White settler communities laying claim to the American Southwest. It was We’wha's job to educate the “outsiders” about Zuñi culture and traditions. When it came time to select an official ambassador to travel to Washington D.C. to speak for the tribe, the Zuñi chose We’wha.
We'wha was the first Zuñi diplomat. Introduced as a princess, she gave weaving presentations at the Smithsonian Institute and participated in exhibits and shows at the National Theater. No one in Washington doubted the Zuñi visitor was a woman, not even President Grover Cleveland, who shook We’wha’s hand in 1886.
We’wha is remembered for her artistry and community advocacy, “indomitable will and…insatiable thirst for knowledge.” His efforts to advance ethical engagement with Native American communities will not soon be forgotten. Even after being unjustly imprisoned on charges of witchcraft, We’wha continued to work alongside anthropologists and politicians, harnessing unique insights and communication skills to educate them about Zuñi culture right up until the end. We’wha died at the age of 47 in 1896.
We'wha used her unique strengths and personality to bring people and cultures together. That's why he's a #HistoryHero. Many thanks to Justin Hubbell of Rochester, NY, for bringing this incredible figure to our attention.