Sitting in the Water Grizzly was born into the Ktunaxa Nation (Kutenai or Kootenai). After leaving a marriage to a Canadian servant in which she was essentially a “slave wife,” she returned to her tribe, declaring that her husband had used supernatural powers to change her sex and she was henceforth a man. She changed her name to Kaúxuma Núpika or Gone to the Spirits, adopted men’s attire and weapons, and took a wife.
Traveling extensively throughout the Pacific Northwest, Kaúxuma Núpika served as a courier and guide to the fur trappers and traders. To the tribes of the region he was a prophet (predicting large numbers of white men bringing diseases), a peace mediator and a warrior. On one journey, after an unsuccessful trip to raid horses with other Ktunaxa warriors, Kaúxuma Núpika crouched down while crossing a stream so that his brother could not discern his sex (for it had not physically been transformed). After this event he changed his name to Sitting in the Water Grizzly or Qánqon Kámek Klaúla.
Qánqon Kámek Klaúla was killed while trying to broker peace between the Salish and the Blackfeet. His death is described as magical, his wounds healing each time he was struck until finally his enemy had to cut out his heart. He is remembered as a hero, a healer and a supernatural being.
Barry, Neilson J. “Ko-Come-Ne Pe-Ca, the letter carrier.” Washington Historical Quarterly 20 (1929): pp. 201-203.
Lang, Sabine. Men as Women, Women as Men: Changing Gender in Native American Cultures. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.
Rupp, Leila J. Sapphistries: A Global History of Love Between Women. New York University Press, 2009.
Schaeffer, Claude E. “The Kutenai Female Berdache: Courier, Guide, Prophetess, and Warrior.” The American Society for Ethnohistory Vol.12, no. 3 (Summer 1965): pp.193-236.
Sperlin, O.B., “Two Kootenay Women Masquerading as Men? Or Were They One?” Washington Historical Quarterly 21(1930): pp. 120-130.
Williams, Walter L. The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.