By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly
In 2010 Amanda Brings Plenty-Wright founded the Portland Two Spirit Society. The group uses education to help combat the homophobia and transphobia introduced to Native American cultures by European colonists. In 2012 PTSS partnered with 2SY, a Two Spirit youth group run by the Native American Rehabilitation Association, to create a curriculum and tool kit for workshops and education. In 2013, Plenty-Wright (Klamath/Modoc) was recognized by Queer Heroes NW.
PQ Monthly: You founded the Portland Two-Spirit Society, which has helped people connect with and reclaim their identities, and you’ve helped educate those around you to combat homophobia learned from European colonizers. What does being part of, and contributing to, a community mean to you?
Amanda Brings Plenty-Wright: I work for my people, my community—so it literally means everything to me. I feel a strong sense of self worth when I am helping and giving to others. The credit is uncomfortable for me, I like the behind the scenes work. I work hard and the pay off comes in seeing the change not accepting credit or being praised for the work. My great-grandparents helped raise me and really instilled a strong work ethic and a strong sense of taking care of others and working for my people. My great-grandpa always used to tell me, “Everything you give will come back to you, always keep your word, be generous, humble and respectful to everyone who comes along, a person can have no material possessions but if they have respect, they have everything they need in life.”
Two Spirit people have always held leadership roles in our communities, as healers, mediators, historians, teachers, caretakers, etc so I think in that way it comes naturally for me.
PQ: You helped the PTTS partner with 2SY, a two-spirit youth group started by the Native American Rehabilitation Association, to create a youth curriculum and tool kit. What does this activism, that helps so many people, mean for you in your life?
ABP-W: I am so very proud of this work and collaboration! It’s amazing to see others inspired and moved to action by my work as I have so many heroes and mentors that I look up to and have been inspired by. I still very much feel sometimes like I am that little Klamath/Modoc kid in the back of the room sitting quietly while my elders lead the way. To look up now and see and acknowledge that I am participating in leading the way for others is humbling and amazing to me. I really do put everything I have into my work and I don’t like to hear, no or it can’t be done or it’s impossible and I think that’s when I work best. All my life I have been hearing that and my response has always been, let me show you and one way or another I make it happen.
PQ: You’ve had a number of big accomplishments, such as being chosen as a 2013 member of the Queer Heroes NW. What’s inspired you in your achievements?
ABP-W: Thank you. I’m grateful for the acknowledgements. I’m constantly inspired by my kids; the greatest thing in my life is being a parent. These little spirits come into your life and shake your foundation to it’s core and really make you question what you really think about the world and your place in it. Then they are like little sponges thirsty for knowledge and your job is not to own them or put them in a bubble but prepare them to be awesome, responsible, respectful, contributing adults in this big, bad, beautiful, chaotic world. And in the moments between the why’s, what’s and how’s they constantly seek you realize looking through their lens they teach you more then you will ever teach them. They inspire me to do my best everyday and to work at shaping the world they will inherit.
My brother Myles also inspires me everyday. He has survived Leukemia twice now in 8 years and is only 30. His bone marrow transplant was a year ago this month. He still battles with the battle scars of cancer and the drug side effects that were used to kill the cancer but he’s the strongest person I know. When I’m feeling pitiful I remind myself what he’s endured and cut my pity party short. I’m grateful for him and the things he’s taught me.
PQ: What activities do you have coming up? What do you see in your future?
ABP-W: PTSS is revamping itself and gearing up to start social activities this coming summer. It’s exciting returning, I’ve took a much needed break and now it’s time to get back to work. I hope that PTSS will establish itself as a non-profit and start looking for grants to further it’s work in the community. As for my future, I’m not looking to far ahead these days, I’m trying my best to enjoy each moment, spend time with my family, create as much Art as I can because it truly feeds my soul, and graduate from my Master’s program. I will be very proud of myself next year this time when I graduate as the first in my family to have a Master’s degree. I was told many times that I couldn’t do it and it really never gets old to say, let me show you!
PQ: As a member of the inaugural Brilliant List, do you have any thoughts to pass on to young activists or leaders who might just be starting off on their paths?
ABP-W: Yeah: always be true to your word, work hard, and celebrate the work not self. Never give up and work harder through adversity. Get to know your strengths and use them.