Showing posts with label Indians/Reservations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Indians/Reservations. Show all posts

July 13, 2019

Navajo Nation Highlights the LGBTQ Community


As the sun dips below the horizon, the colored lights turn on — bathing the Navajo Nation Council Chambers in rainbow hues as the crowd cheers. 

On June 28, the Navajo Nation kicked off Diné Pride, a two-day event in Window Rock, Ariz., the capital of the Navajo reservation. 

Geronimo Louie dances in a rainbow-themed shawl in front of the Window Rock park at Diné Pride. Half Navajo and half Apache, Louie spoke about the experience coming out as gay within those two cultures.

Diné Pride coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots when patrons at a historic gay bar in New York City fought back against violent police raids in 1969. The protests are widely credited with springboarding the modern gay civil rights movement in the U.S.

Why We Remember Stonewall 

This year's Diné Pride is infused with that history, themed Sacredness Before Stonewall — focusing attention on honoring transgender women of color and their history in indigenous culture.
"Since our creation, the Diné people have acknowledged and revered LGBTQ and especially the trans community in our leadership," said Alray Nelson, founder of Diné Equality and board member for Diné Pride. "Our theme, Sacredness Before Stonewall, is just a way that we are decolonizing and indigenizing Pride for us."
During a panel discussion on visibility for indigenous trans people, Mattee Jim discussed her dual identities: "I am Diné first and foremost. I am of my people," she said. "A lot of our traditional teachings from precontact have been lost to westernization and Christianization."

Currently, there are no anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws on the reservation, and same-sex marriage is illegal, per the 2005 Diné Marriage Act. Beyond the rainbow colors and drag performances was a core theme of returning to traditional Diné teachings about identities that would roughly be considered LGBTQ in contemporary Western culture, specifically transgender people.
Jim and other speakers throughout the weekend referenced the traditional Navajo story of the nádleehi. In this story, First Man and First Woman were at odds, causing men and women of the world to split into separate camps. The nádleehi were a third gender.

According to the story, the nádleehi stayed with First Man, performing traditionally feminine tasks. They were essential in bridging the divide between First Man and First Woman, bringing peace to the land.

The Navajo language includes references to at least four genders: asdzààn, a feminine female; hastiin, a masculine male; dilbaa, a masculine woman; and nádleehi. For indigenous LGBTQ people throughout North America, the term Two-Spirit has gained some popularity as an umbrella term recognizing the third gender and the beliefs associated with it. 

"Before Europeans came, we were considered sacred people because we had strong medicine. Because we carried the spirit of both male and female, so we were very honored along with medicine people," says Oriah Lee, who identifies as Two-Spirit Diné. "That tradition has disappeared because it is so Christianized here."

On Saturday, the highlight was the marriage of Ophelia Shondee and Bonnie Gillespie. Shondee is Diné from Ganado, Ariz., and wanted to be married in her homeland.


Although their ceremony was performed in Window Rock, the couple had to get their license through an Arizona court off the reservation.

January 28, 2019

LGBT Navajos Have Discovered a Powerful Ally and Surprisingly is Their Grandparents


When she was 5 years old, Michelle Sherman learned exactly what her mother thought of gay men.
"I remember seeing two guys holding hands, and then my mom's like, 'Oh, that's disgusting,' and so I was like, 'OK, maybe it is disgusting,' " Sherman says.
But then she realized she was attracted to girls and began to believe something was wrong with her too. At just 11 years old, Sherman attempted suicide.
Nationwide, the share of LGBT teens who attempt suicide is high — 23 percent. For Navajo LGBT youth, the rate is three times as high, according to the Navajo Nation's Diné Policy Institute.
Through her teens, Sherman tried to fit in on the northern edge of the Navajo Nation, but she was living a double life. When she was 19 years old, her sister walked in on Sherman and another female in her bedroom.
"She just barged in the door and, you know, yelled at me like, 'What the hell are you doing?' Like you shouldn't be doing this," Sherman says. "You know, [she] made me feel less human. Cuz she was like, 'What do you think Grandma's going to think about you?' "
That's when Sherman felt she had to leave the reservation and her family. She moved to Phoenix and began drinking heavily. It wasn't until she sought help from a Navajo medicine man to address her alcoholism that she reconnected with her grandmother.
It turns out that her grandmother embraced her as a lesbian.
Michelle Sherman found an unexpected LGBT ally when she came out — her 93-year-old grandmother, Alice Palmer.
Michelle Sherman/NPR
Alice Palmer, 93, and Sherman had always been close. And they are today again, now that Sherman has reconnected with her family. Even though Palmer is difficult to understand because of a stroke, she and her granddaughter spend a lot of time together. They watch wrestling, grind corn and go to flea markets.
A time before prejudice 
It's not unusual that Navajo grandparents are accepting of being LGBT while parents are not. Historians say federally run boarding schools and other assimilation tactics taught a generation of Navajos that same-sex relationships are wrong.
Navajo leadership also plays a role — in 2005 the tribal council passed the Diné Marriage Act, a law forbidding same-sex marriage.
"When I came out to my family, my mother of course took it the hardest. But my grandparents didn't," says Alray Nelson, a Navajo LGBT rights activist.
"We are seeing clearly the aftereffects of what colonialism can look like and how it really shifted our values as Navajo people," Nelson says. "Whereas at the time, if you were LGBTQ and growing up in Navajo traditional families, families celebrated that fact. They said that we were sacred. They said that we had sacred roles."
But returning to understandings that predate colonialism has helped the families of LGBT Navajos. Traditionalists believe that the "two spirited," as they're sometimes called, are powerful and that not all humans can be classified as male or female.
Navajo historian Jennifer Denetdale says the Diné creation story includes a nádleehí.
"Today we take the nádleehí as a being who was what we would call an intersex person today, meaning that this is a person who has sexual organs of the male and the female and is considered to be a third gender in Navajo society," Denetdale says.
When the first man and the first woman weren't getting along, it was the nádleehí who intervened.
Finding a purpose
In Michelle Sherman's family, her grandmother has persuaded other family members to open their minds. Even Michelle's mother, Virgie Sherman, agreed to go with her last June to the Diné Pride festival, where Michelle gave a speech.
"I was there for her," Virgie says. "She can talk to [the] audience. She wasn't even embarrassed about what she is. Yeah, so I'm proud of her."
Now 33, Michelle is working on her bachelor's degree at Haskell Indian Nations University. When she graduates, she plans to return to the Navajo Nation, where LGBT youth often don't have access to resources, let alone the Internet.
"If I want to keep inspiring, then why not do it at home?" Michelle says. "Just like my grandma, she's here. She still inspires people."
Michelle looks down at her forearm, where she has tattooed a black diamond, the same design her grandmother used to weave into rugs. On the other side of her arm are scars from her suicide attempt, reminding her every day that she is still here, that she has a purpose: to help Navajo youth like herself.

January 3, 2017

The Cherokee Nation decided to recognize Same Sex Marriage

THE CHEROKEE NATION, one of the largest registered Native American tribes in the United States, has officially decided to recognize same-sex marriage. The tribe, as a separate sovereign, isn’t bound by the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 gay-marriage decision, Obergefell v. Hodges. But its judgment relies in part on evidence of historical recognition of same-sex relationships among Cherokees — a basis for contemporary gay rights that is different from, and in some ways deeper than, the equality and dignity rationales that the Supreme Court used.

The history of how tribes have been treated in their interaction with the U.S. legal system is complex and often inconsistent — usually to the detriment of the tribes. But the basic principle of “Indian law” is that tribes are considered sovereign nations: dependent on the United States and subject to congressional control in some respects, but entitled to exercise self-government.

Thus, tribes need not govern themselves democratically — nor are they necessarily bound by the U.S. Constitution. Instead, basic rights in Indian country come from either the tribes’ own fundamental constitutional principles or the Indian Civil Rights Act, enacted by Congress in 1968.

The act includes guarantees of equal protection and due process of law, the same principles that are found in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and that were the basis for the Obergefell decision. But when the Supreme Court updates its interpretation of the Constitution, as it did in the gay marriage case, that doesn’t automatically change the meaning of Indian Civil Rights Act. So the act hasn’t been held to mandate gay marriage in Indian country.

As a result, when Todd Hembree, the attorney general of the Cherokee Nation, issued his binding gay marriage opinion last month, the Indian Civil Rights Act went unmentioned. The decision was based on the Constitution of the Cherokee Nation, which he described as “the supreme written will of the Cherokee people regarding the framework of their government.” Hembree mentioned Obergefell only to cite it in a footnote.

What’s perhaps most remarkable about the attorney general’s opinion is how it grounded its argument in Cherokee tradition. In a section titled “Perpetual Partnership and Marriage in the Cherokee Nation,” Hembree devoted significant attention to a ceremony of devotion that was traditionally performed between two men at an annual festival.

Hembree quoted in its entirety an eyewitness description from 1836 by John Howard Payne, a picaresque writer, composer and traveler. In Payne’s account, the ritual “sprang from a passionate friendship between young men” that led them “mutually to a solemn act of devotedness to each other.” The young men would engage in “silent interchange of garment after garment, until each was clad in the other’s dress.”

According to Hembree, “the relationship described in some respects would seem to parallel a modern-day same-sex marriage” — and received “recognition by the other members of the tribe.”

The attorney general’s opinion also referred to a 19th century report on Cherokee customs that stated, “There were among them formerly men who assumed the dress and performed all the duties of women and who live full lives in this manner.” This resonates with contemporaneous reports from many tribes, especially in the Great Plains, of men who lived as women.

In the long run, arguments from authenticity and tradition may be even more powerful ways to establish acceptance of gay marriage than reliance on the abstract principles of equality and dignity. That is true not only among Indian tribes, which take a broad range of positions on gay marriage, but also among a wide range of Americans.

After all, opposition to gay marriage derives for the most part from religious tradition, which can effectively resist liberal arguments for modernization. Now that gay marriage is a legal right, the next challenge is to convince opponents that the best reading of their own traditions favors equal treatment of gay couples. The Cherokee nation’s attorney general is leading the way.

Noah Feldman, law columnist for Bloomberg View

March 15, 2013

Michigan Now Has Gay Marriage If You belong to a Tribe

Gay Marriage-Michigan Tribe

 — With an exchange of rings and a kiss, two men became spouses Friday during a ceremony at a northern Michigan Indian reservation after the tribal chairman signed a measure approving same-sex marriage in a state where it's officially banned.
Tim LaCroix, 53, a member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, wed longtime partner Gene Barfield, 60, during a ceremony that blended familiar-sounding vows with native symbolism including drumming and the burning of pungent sage. The men joyfully embraced as Tribal Chairman Dexter McNamara pronounced them married.

"I'm the happiest, luckiest guy in the world," Barfield said.
The men, who live in Boyne City, acknowledged the state of Michigan does not recognize their union but said they hoped the tribe's approval would be one more step toward acceptance across the U.S. Federally recognized Native American tribes are self-governing and not bound by the state law.
Same-sex marriage is prohibited under an amendment to the state Constitution approved by voters in 2004. Attorney General Bill Schuette agrees with an opinion issued by his predecessor, Mike Cox, that Michigan law does not regard gay marriages performed in other states as valid, according to spokeswoman Joy Yearout.
The federal Defense of Marriage Act lets states refuse to recognize gay marriages performed in states that allow them, although the law is being challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court. The outcome of that case could affect a pending suit in Detroit that contends Michigan's ban violates the U.S. Constitution.
Either way, the tribe's new policy is likely to result in an eventual legal showdown with the state, said Richard Monette, a professor and federal Indian law specialist at the University of Wisconsin. Gay couples married under tribal jurisdiction may adopt children, get divorced or be required to pay child support. If they move off the reservation and try to have tribal court orders enforced in state courts, "it could be ... a bit of chaos," he said.
At least two other U.S. Indian tribes recognize gay marriage. The Coquille Tribe in North Bend, Ore., began recognizing the unions in 2009 and the Suquamish Tribe in Suquamish, Wash., did so in 2011. Oregon, like Michigan, has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Approval from the 4,531-member Michigan tribe didn't happen immediately.
Annette VanDeCar, who is gay, said she and other members began discussing the matter a couple of years ago and proposed a marriage statute to the Little Traverse Bay Bands tribal council in February 2012. It was rejected last summer on a 5-4 vote. But the council approved it by the same margin this month after adding a provision requiring that at least one member of a wedded same-sex couple be a tribal citizen.
"Our tribe is making history. I'm very proud," said Cherie Dominick, who works in its legal department.
The idea that same-sex relationships are immoral is "an imposed Western belief" that contradicts the traditional native concept that people have "two spirits" with male and female natures, she said.
McNamara, who could have vetoed the measure, said he considered it a simple matter of providing equal rights for all tribal citizens. "Everyone has a different view of what love is, and all are deserving of respect," he said.
He signed the bill in the tribal government building to applause from several dozen onlookers. Shortly afterward, LaCroix and Barfield - dressed casually in open-necked shirts and sweaters affixed with white lapel flowers - stepped forward to become the first couple wed under its provisions.
After reciting pledges to each other, they were presented with a slender maple limb bent into a hoop that represents the four stages of life. Using ribbon of different colors, they knotted sacred plants - tobacco, cedar, sage and sweetgrass - to the wood.
Although their relationship began three decades ago in the U.S. Navy, they said marriage was important to fulfill a longtime dream and to send a message to others.
"We want to show people in the gay community that you can do this - you can have a sustained, fulfilling relationship and people will accept you," LaCroix said. "Times are changing."
The men are unsure whether they'll be able to file taxes as a couple or whether Barfield will be recognized as a dependent by LaCroix's health insurer. Other legal hurdles remain. But on Friday, they shared cake with well-wishers and relished their status as a married couple.
"There's no way I can love him more than I already have, but this is still a whole new thing," Barfield said. "My husband - I can't believe I'm finally saying that.”

Featured Posts

Staten Island and The US Looses One of Its Fighters to COVID-19 {Jim Smith}

                             Jim Smith helped organize Staten Island's first pride parade in 2005. He served as its...