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22 September 2012

Ozaw-Wen-Dib (177? - 183?) agokwe.

In the 1790s the Ojibwe agokwe (=two spirit), Ozaw-wen-dib (= 'Yellow Head'), one of the sons of chief, Wesh-ko-bug, had established the reputation of being the best runner in the tribe. When a group of Lakota attacked in 1801, in the future Manitoba, she ordered the others to escape without her. She then distracted the Lakota war party by firing arrows at them until the others were safe, and then ran to catch up with the rest of the band.

John Tanner, who had been raised among the Ojibwe, encountered Ozaw-wen-dib in the 1820s while encamped on the Red River. In his widely read autobiography he discuses the incident.
'Some time in the course of this winter, there came to our lodge one of the sons of the celebrated Ojibbeway chief, called Wesh-ko-bug, who lived at Leech Lake.  This man was one of those who make themselves women, and are called women by the Indians.  There are several of this sort among most, if not all the Indian tribes: they are commonly called A-go-kwa, a word that is expressive of their condition. This creature, called Ozaw-wen-dib was now nearly fifty years old, and had lived with many husbands ... She soon let me know she had come a long distance to see me, and with the hope of living with me. She often offered herself to me, but not being discouraged with one refusal, she repeated her disgusting advances until I was almost driven from the lodge ... [Another Indian] only laughed at the embarrassment and shame which I evinced ... At length, despairing of success in her addresses to me, or being too much pinched by hunger, which was commonly felt in our lodge, she disappeared.' Four days later Ozaw-wen-dib returned with food, and tanner was quite happy to go with her on a two-day journey to another lodge. 'Here also, I found myself relieved from the persecutions of the A-go-kwa, which had become intolerable. Wa-ge-to-te, who had two wives, married her. This introduction of a new intimate into the family of Wa-ge-to-te, occasioned some laughter and produced some ludicrous incidents, but was attended with less uneasiness and quarreling than would have been the bringing in of a new wife of the female sex'.
Ozaw-wen-dib was killed by a Dakota while hunting at the mouth of the Hay River.

Ozaw-wen-dib is remembered in the naming of Ozaawindibe-ziibi (aka Schoolcraft River) in Minnesota, and Yellow Head Point in Lake Itasca, Minnesota.
  • John Tanner. The Falcon, A Narrative of the Captivity & Adventures of John Tanner. New York: G & C & H Carvill 1830. New York: Penguin Books 2000. Quoted in Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. NY: Crowell, 1976: 452-3.
  • Walter L. Williams. The Spirit And The Flesh: Sexual Diversity In American Indian Culture. Beacon Press 1986: 68-9,168n13.

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