An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that same-sex marriage is legal on the Navajo Nation. SDPB has updated this story to reflect that correction.
Proponents are looking to pass a hate-crime amendment to tribal law on the Pine Ridge Reservation. If passed, it would protect LGBT people and others from discrimination. It’s a first for any South Dakota Reservation. The next step is approval from the full tribal council. The move comes after legislation earlier this month that legalized same sex marriage for the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe.
Monique, or ‘Muffie’ Mousseau has a mission. She wants community members to show support for a tribal hate-crime measure.
“It’s for our takojas (grandchildren), it’s for these little ones here. This generation. This is going to happen to them if we do not put down this law. They’re going to have to leave if they decide they want to be with somebody they love and it’s of the same sex.”
The 51 year old has been traveling to districts on Pine Ridge giving presentations, like this one, so the tribal Law and Order Committee can gauge local reactions. There are nine districts on the reservation...and the Pine Ridge district just became the fourth supporting the hate crime proposal.
After the ordinance is presented to the remaining five districts, it will be sent to the Law and Order Committee, then voted on by the full Tribal Council in late August. Mousseau says this ordinance is critical to LGBT people’s safety.
“There’s just been too much violence concerning closed minds about two-spirited, about lesbians, about gays, about bisextuals, about trans persons or about queers having a place within our tribal system. But in actuality, it was always a part of or cultural being on this land.”
Mousseau says two-spirited people--an encompassing term for LGBT individuals--have had a place in Lakota culture for a long time. She says in some Native tradition, they were seen as sacred and even held leadership roles. However Mousseau says that changed, when European immigrants introduced Christianity. She says these hate-crime amendments are a step in realigning the LGBT community with the culture.
“It’s an important step of opening up minds and reminding us that we are a part of our culture. We are important and it is imperative that us as people get along and remember that this next law that’s coming is for protections.”
Mousseau and her partner Felipa Deleon are from the Pine Ridge Reservation. They moved away in 2009 after they were harassed because of their sexual orientation.
When the U.S. legalized same-sex marrigae in 2015, the women wanted to get married at home. However, treaties with the U.S. government allow tribes to decide their own marriage laws and Pine Ridge had not passed such legislation.
Mousseau and Deleon decided to instead get married at Mt. Rushmore with six other couples. The ceremony, four years ago was full of guests celebrating the LGBT Community.
"And so that’s how the fairy tale began.”
Some tribes have recognized same-sex marrige for a while. The Osage Nation of Oklahoma passed similar legislation in 2017. Mousseau and Deleon helped to pass same-sex marriage legislation for the Pine Ridge Reservation, but say that was just the first step.
They continue to hear stories of sexual orientation-based harassment and assault similar to their own and offer advice when they can. Mousseau says since May of this year, friends on the reservation tell them four of six suicides involved LGBT people.
“There should not be any embarrassment of who you are as a person and who you want to be with and who you’re attracted to, or who you would like to kiss and who you fall in love with.”
Last week, they received official acknowledgment that Pine Ridge was the first tribe in the Sioux Band to pass legislation allowing same-sex marriage.
“We had just about a one minute of celebration yesterday when we got it. Just all by ourselves. Standing there jumping around on the side of the tribal building.”
Fifty-one year old Michael Pourier from Pine Ridge worked with the couple to push the legislation and also helped draft the hate-crime ordinance.
“See they’re open to it now. They’re ready to hear us because of their stance. Because of the marriage equality. They’re listening.”
Pourier, who is gay, says this week a stranger showed up at his house in Rapid City attempting to assault him and making slurs against LGBT people. He reported the incident to the police, but they did not find the suspect.
Pourier says this is pushback for his part in advocating the hate-crime ordinance for Pine Ridge. He hopes the amendment will prevent other individuals from being singled out.
“We’re just here to remind. Remind them that this cultural part is important and that we have a right as tribal members to do that.”
The wording for the hate-crime ordinance is based on the Matthew Shepard Act--a national hate-crime prevention law passed in 2009.
Chase Iron Eyes is the Public Relations Liaison for Pine Ridge President, Julian Bear Runner. Iron Eyes says many tribes in the area lean towards conservative positions on social and political issues, like the states they border.
“We’re also conservative, Indian Country, Lakota people because there’s the influence of the church on the reservation. Still is. Half the reservation is owned by non-Indian interests. Private fee owners and churches as well. So we’ve been influcened by that Euro-Hetero-Christian Patriarchy.”
Iron Eyes says discrimination against LGBT people forces young people to grapple with problems beyond their years. But, he believes politicians of all races and backgrounds on the local and national levels are starting to take a closer look at gender diversity in communities.
“We suffer already certain levels of discrtimination just because of who we are as indiginous people. There’s no reason why we need to be doing that to our own people. This reflects a step in the right direction to not discriminate against anyone based on gender, sexual orientation, identity, religion, national origin and so forth.”
The Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribal Council is expected to vote on the hate-crime ordinance in late August. If it passes, the protections will amend current tribal law.