Two Spirit/LGBT Rights Toolkit for Tribal Governments Introduced

Gale Courey Toensing
9/26/12

A first-of-its-kind guide complete with sample legal language is now available for tribal governments to adopt or amend their laws to recognize the rights of all their citizens, including Two Spirit and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

The “Tribal Equity Toolkit: Tribal Resolutions and Codes to Support Two Spirit and LGBT Justice in Indian Country” made its debut on September 26 when it was introduced to delegates at the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians’ 59th Annual Fall Convention at the Wild Horse Resort & Casino in Pendleton, Oregon.

“Our hope is to begin to construct a cohesive narrative about Two Spirit & LGBT Natives within our own Tribal communities and for those stories to compel us to take action,” said Se-ah-dom Edmo, director of the Indigenous Ways of Knowing Program at Lewis & Clark College, which developed the toolkit in partnership with the Native American Program of Legal Aid Services of Oregon, Basic Rights Oregon and the Western States Center. The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians supported the work.

Edmo said inspiration for the project came from the landmark decisions by the Coquille Tribe and the Suquamish Tribe recognizing same sex marriage in 2008 and 2011, respectively.

The comprehensive toolkit is packed with legal information and structured around the categories of Family; Employment; Education’ Health Care/End of Life; and Bias-Motivated (Hate) Crimes. Each category is broken subjects. Family, for example, is broken into Marriage, Domestic Partnerships and Civil Unions, Children, Child Custody and Visitation, and Child Welfare. Each section includes one or more sample resolutions. Marriage, for example, includes the Tribal Resolution in Support of Two Spirit Equality and the Freedom to Marry and a Marriage Equality Ordinance.”

In addition, Basic Rights produced an eight-minute video called “Our Families: LGBT Two Spirit Stories” featuring the personal stories of LGBT tribal members. In the video Phillip Hillarie, a Lummi Nation citizen, advises, “Any Two Spirit person who is able and willing to come out, I would encourage them to reach to their elders. I want young people to keep hold of their families, who can help them to build that hope and trust in who they are.”

Also, the organizations also produced a two-page flier called “Why Marriage Matters” that supports a Washington state ballot initiative – Referendum 74 – upholding same sex marriage that goes before voters in November.

Robert Kentta, a Siletz Tribe citizen, council member and Cultural Resources Director, provides an eloquent foreword to the toolkit. He delineates the historic wrongs by which the dominant culture treated Indigenous Peoples as less than human – stolen lands, genocide, introduced diseases, children snatched and placed in hateful “institutions of assimilation.” Having been wronged, Kentta writes, “all of us…have a strong sense of what social justice is and what it should look like.” Two spirit people have special roles in the communities, cultures and ceremonial life, Kentta says. “Our people were strong and beautiful in our traditional understanding of life, and that we all have different gifts. Two Spirit indicates an ability to see the world from both male and female perspectives and to bridge the world of male and female. The concept of balance is important in our traditional views, and balance can be between individuals or groups or within a particular individual. Two Spirit captures that concept of balance within an individual.” Noting that Two Spirit people have been “invisibilized and stigmatized” he says tribes now have a chance to “protect and preserve Two Spirit and LGBT narratives as an essential piece to preservation of our cultures.” The toolkit provides tribal governments the opportunity to reflect on how they are either perpetuating policies that are damaging to the community or policies and laws that uphold and demonstrate a commitment to justice and equity as enduring community values, Kentta says. “The work compiled here – with love and understanding, is just what it says it is – a toolkit. It does not dictate, it does not ask anything of you but to read it and decide what you believe in, and what core principles you stand for. It gives our communities another set of tools for restoring ourselves.”

The free toolkit will be available November 1 on the website of the Indigenous Ways of Knowing Program.

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