Like a broken pipeline spilling sickness across the prairie, South Dakota lawmakers often pump out hateful legislation that marginalizes our most vulnerable citizens, including transgender youth.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard recently vetoed a proposed bill that would have banned youth from using public school bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms that didn’t correspond with their “biological sex.” While we applaud the veto, this, unfortunately, will not be the final word from those encouraging discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community in South Dakota and the rest of Indian Country.
As members of the O?éti Šakówi? whose treaty lands are directly impacted by South Dakota law, we write this letter not only to condemn this kind of legislation, but more importantly to call fellow Natives to action to prevent this kind of colonial vitriol from further polluting tribal ways and governance.
Let’s start the conversation by discussing how we—the O?éti Šakówi?—remove ourselves from hateful and bigoted sentiments like those we see play out in mainstream politics. Too often, we see tribal leaders in South Dakota take similar stands.
We experience homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny not only by white settler culture, but also sometimes by our own Indigenous people. We see Indigenous Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ relatives attempt escape with suicide and self-harm, as well as fleeing reservation communities into perceivably more welcoming urban settings. This relocation disrupts sacred kinship relations with not just our people, but also our lands.
Recently, some Oglala elders came forward to dictate tribal tradition by saying same-sex marriage violates “natural law.” We don’t know what “natural law” means in an O?éti Šakówi? context, and homophobic attitudes like these must be addressed, if only to acknowledge and move past the intergenerational pain and trauma inherent within these statements.
We write this statement to honor all of our elders and ancestors. Some were viciously abused inside colonial institutions that were anti-woman, anti-child, and homophobic. Boarding schools, designed to kill our cultures, were filled with sexual abuse and torture. The system of individual land allotment tore our ancestors apart, denigrating extended family systems and collective landholding. Government-led Christian missions and Indian agencies further obliterated our spiritual and cultural identities with laws about how to marry and when, and with whom to have sex. Government-aided churches tried to force us to accept their rigid, unforgiving notions of love and relationships.
We write this statement to honor all generations. Even today, dominant colonial indoctrinations tell us to fear sexual differences and express that fear through violent control—from both the pulpit and the capitol—of our most vulnerable relatives. Sometimes Natives ourselves practice similar tactics of control and marginalization around sexuality. When we do, we are complicit in ongoing sexual violence against Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ relatives, the ground for which was prepared in boarding schools, religious indoctrination, and other assimilation programs.
The irony is clear: By defining marriage as between only a man and a woman and by saying our Two Spirit and LGTBQ+ relatives go against “natural law,” we perpetuate genocide against ourselves.
Intolerant and puritanical pronouncements such as those made by the Council of Lakota Elders only serve to further harm and divide our already dislocated peoples; therefore, we encourage tribal leaders to break from colonial limitations of love and family and discuss how to move forward. We must reevaluate how we relate to each other as tiwahe, tióšpaye and oyáte – together, not separate. Let’s shake the bonds of colonialism and instead reinforce or perhaps reinvent bonds of kinship and communal responsibility.
We write this statement as a reminder that the foundations for this change were set long ago. Lakota elders Robert Chasing Hawk and Joseph Marshall III recently told Native Sun News that “marriage”—as we know it today: between two people as a state institution—never existed historically in Lakota society. The sacred ceremonies given to our ancestors by Ptesá?wi?—White Buffalo Calf Woman—never included marriage. Our views on romance respected individuals’ sexuality and were far more advanced when compared to today’s conservative Western standards.
Imagine if every time one of our youth, women, or Two Spirit relatives’ bodies were trespassed or their rights violated, we reacted like we did to stop Keystone XL pipeline. Our medicine societies prayed for the protection of the land and water. Tribal councils issued declarations of war. And it worked, the pipeline was halted, for now at least.
We must be careful to recognize ongoing colonial harms and remedy them in culturally-appropriate ways when we have the power to do so. In this case, too, it is possible to fight for more just and healthy relations, this time among humans. Our own tribal histories provide the path.
After all, we are all related, not just some of us. Mitákuye Oyás’i?.
Signed by O?éti Šakówi? Two Spirits, LGBTQ+, and supporters:
- Alethea J. Rosales (Oglala Sioux Tribe)
- Alfred Walking Bull (Sicangu Lakota)
- Alicia Mousseau (Oglala Lakota)
- Alli Moran (Wakpá Wašté Oyáte)
- Allison Renville (Sisseton Wahpeton-Oyate Two-Spirited Society)
- Angel Mills (Oglala Lakota)
- Anna Brokenleg Keller (Sicangu Lakota)
- Anna Diaz-Takes Shield (Oglala Lakota)
- Ashley Nicole McCray (Oglala Lakota/Sicangu Lakota/Absentee Shawnee)
- Ashley Pourier (Oglala Lakota)
- Carrie E. Sitting Up (Oglala Lakota)
- Chas Jewett (Mniconjou Lakota)
- Corrine Sitting Up (Oglala Lakota)
- Coya White Hat-Artichoker (Sicangu Lakota)
- Dani Morrison (Oglala Lakota)
- Darren Cross (Oglala Sioux)
- Darren Renville (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate)
- David Bender (Hunkpapa Lakota)
- Davidica Little Spotted Horse (Oglala Lakota)
- Dawn D. Moves Camp (Oglala Lakota)
- Dawn Ryan (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Two-Spirited Society)
- Deanna Stands (Ihanktonwan na Isanyati Dakota)
- Doris Giago (Oglala Lakota)
- Eli Conroy (Oglala Lakota)
- Felipa De Leon (Oglala Lakota)
- Jacqueline Keeler (Ihanktonwan Dakota/Diné)
- Jaida Grey Eagle (Oglala Lakota)
- Jeaneen Lonehill (Oglala Lakota)
- Jedadiah Richards (Oglala Lakota)
- Jenna Grey Eagle (Oglala Lakota)
- Jesse Short Bull (Oglala Lakota)
- James G. La Pointe (Oglala Lakota)
- Joel Waters (Oglala Lakota)
- Jonna Grey Eagle (Oglala Lakota)
- Jonnie Storm (Ihanktonwan Dakota)
- Juliana Brown Eyes-Clifford (Oglala Lakota)
- Kim TallBear (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate)
- Krystal Two Bulls (Oglala Lakota)
- Lenny Hayes (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate)
- Leo Yankton (Oglala Lakota)
- Marie Giago (Oglala Lakota)
- The Rev. Dr. Martin Brokenleg (Sicangu Lakota)
- Mary Abbott (Cheyenne River Lakota)
- Mary Baird (Oglala Lakota)
- Melissa Buffalo (Kangi Okute/Kul Wicasa Oyáte/Meskwaki)
- Monique Mousseau (Oglala Lakota)
- Natasha Bordeaux (Sicangu Lakota)
- Nick Estes (Kul Wicasa Oyate)
- Sarah Brokenleg (Sicangu Lakota)
- Ronya J. Hoblit (Oglala Lakota)
- Sloane Cornelius (Oglala Lakota)
- Tasiyagnunpa Livermont (Oglala Lakota)
- Taté Walker (Mniconjou Lakota)
- Thalia Wilson Ellis (Standing Rock Sioux Hunkpapa Lakota)
- Theresa Halsey (Standing Rock Sioux Hunkpapa Lakota)
- Tom Swift Bird (Oglala Lakota)
- Valerie Jean Collins-Siqueiros (Cheyenne River Lakota)
- Vernon Renville (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Two-Spirited Society)
… And many more who choose to remain anonymous because they face the real possibility of retaliation as LGBTQ+ or Two Spirit.