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QÁNQON-KÁMEK-KLAÚLA (b. circa 1780s?; d. 13 June 1837), guide, healer, mediator.

Qánqon-kámek-klaúla was a Kutenai who was born female but adopted a cross-gender status, pursued mainly men's activities as an adult, and sought to be socially recognized as a man. He went to war, took a series of wives, became a renowned healer, and made prophecies that contributed to an intertribal revival movement. He was killed by Blackfoot warriors in 1837 while serving as peace negotiator.

Qánqon-kámek-klaúla was born and raised in the late eighteenth century in Lower Kutenai country, a territory comprising what are now southern British Columbia, northeastern Idaho, and northwestern Montana. As a child she was called Qúqunok Pátke, "One Standing (Lodge) Pole Woman." Lore handed down through the Kutenai people into the twentieth century recounted that she showed no sign of alternative-gender identification as a child and that she wished to marry a Kutenai man, but because of her unusually large physique none were willing when she was of age to marry. Around 1808, she became the wife of a North-West Company voyageur and left her own people for more than a year to live with him. Then the relationship ended, and Qúqunok Pátke returned to her people. At this point her desire to assume male status became apparent. Qúqunok Pátke told everyone that her white husband had used supernatural power and transformed her physically into a man. She also began to claim spiritual powers and adopted the name Kaúxuma Núpika, meaning "Gone to the Spirits." The Kutenai apparently had a recognized alternative gender role for women, called títqattek ("pretending to be a man"), but they did not believe her claim of physical transformation and were initially skeptical about her spiritual powers.

Nevertheless, Kaúxuma Núpika began to make a social transformation into a male role. He adopted men's shirts, leggings, and breechcloths and began to carry a gun and bow and arrows. He also began to seek a wife. After several refusals, he formed a relationship with a Kutenai widow, but the liaison did not last long. For the rest of his life, he changed wives frequently.

Kaúxuma Núpika began to go on raids and become involved in warfare. He chose his third and final name after joining an unsuccessful horse-stealing raid. On the way home from the raid, Kaúxuma Núpika was surprised when crossing a stream by his brother, who had hidden to observe his sibling and thus confirm that Kaúxuma Núpika's body remained female. That evening, Kaúxuma Núpika announced that he was renaming himself Qánqon-kámek-klaúla ("Sitting in the Water Grizzly"), in reference to his embarrassing experience when the brother observed him at the stream. But his brother scornfully declared that he would simply call him Qánqon, since he was really still a woman, and shortly afterward disclosed to the entire camp that Qánqon-kámek-klaúla remained physically female. After this other people also began to call him Qánqon (the word apparently meant "sitting" or "squatting").

In June 1811, Qánqon-kámek-klaúla traveled with his wife from his people's trading post on the Spokane River to Fort Astoria (in present-day Oregon) and made contact with fur traders there. The traders initially accepted him as male, but later a North-West Company employee, David Thompson, arrived and recognized him as the voyageur's former wife. The fur traders engaged Qánqon-kámek-klaúla and his wife as guides for a trip into the interior, up the Columbia River. En route, it became clear that Qánqon-kámek-klaúla had gained prominence among Native Americans as a prophet and dream interpreter. While traveling the four hundred miles to Fort Astoria he had prophesied a coming epidemic and widespread death. On the return trip upriver he made fresh predictions about the arrival of European traders who would distribute goods generously and create a time of abundance.

Qánqon-kámek-klaúla disappears from written records from 1811 to 1825, then reappears in fur traders' accounts as a person esteemed among his people. In those fourteen years he had won considerable respect among the Kutenai for his curing and prophetic abilities. The Kutenai of the early twentieth century remembered him as a successful healer and attributed his powers to his gender transformation. Qánqon-kámek-klaúla was clearly still an honored figure at the time he was killed in 1837, when he was trying to mediate a peace between the Blackfoot and some Flathead people whom they had surrounded. He is said to have tricked the Blackfoot in order to give the Flathead time to escape, thereby knowingly sacrificing his life. Stories that circulated in the twentieth century about the manner of his death confirmed that he had great spiritual power. Qánqon-kámek-klaúla had transformed himself from a warrior into a peacemaker by the end of his life. He left a further legacy through his prophecies, which spread widely throughout the northwest and contributed to the Prophet Dance revival movement.


Lang, Sabine. Men as Women, Women as Men. Changing Gender in Native American Cultures. Translated from the German by John L. Vantine. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.

Roscoe, Will. Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America. New York: St Martin's Press, 1998.

Schaeffer, Claude E. "The Kutenai Female Berdache: Courier, Guide, Prophetess, and Warrior," Ethnohistory 12, no. 3 (Winter 1965): 193–236.

Thompson, David. David Thompson's Narrative of his Explorations in Western America 1784–1812. Edited by J. B. Tyrrell. Toronto: Champlain Society, 1916.

Vibert, Elizabeth. "'The Natives Were Strong to Live': Reinterpreting Early-Nineteenth-Century Prophetic Movements in the Columbia Plateau." Ethnohistory 42, no. 2 (Spring 1995): 197–229.

Robin Jarvis Brownlie

see alsotranssexuals, transvestites, transgender people, and cross-dressers; two-spirit females.