By Contributor on January 12, 2006

Tribal leaders should establish legal protection of same-sex marriage for their members.

In the past year, the issue of marriage equality among Indians has come before two tribal governments. The Navajo Nation, despite a veto attempt by its president, ruled against same-sex marriage within the tribe.

In the Cherokee Nation, the tribal council attempted to ban same-sex marriage after two Cherokee women filed for a certificate of marriage with the tribe. Fortunately, marriage equality prevailed.

The Cherokee Nation's highest court recently affirmed the marriage between tribal members Kathy Reynolds and Dawn McKinley. Despite the outcry of some tribal council leaders, the Cherokee court ruled there was no reason to deny the legal partnership because the marriage posed no harm or threat to the tribal community.

That judicial ruling should serve as a precedent for other Indian governments as they consider the issue of same-sex marriage.

There may be more romantic myth than fact to the idea that, before European contact, all Indian tribes were tolerant of same-sex partnerships. But the level of widespread homophobia visible today certainly appears to be a byproduct of the forced assimilation into white culture for Indians, which has included internalizing the same bigotry and intolerance we see throughout the United States.

In the struggle to exert self-determination, Indian nations must consider traditional tribal values over European-American values. This is especially true on issues like same-sex marriage. Simply put, tribes must base their legislative decisions outside of current mainstream attitudes of intolerance and hatred toward gays and lesbians. Tribal governments must rise above such bigotry and legalize same-sex marriage.

Indian nations understand that sovereignty includes establishing laws that protect the culture, ceremonies and language of their tribe. But tribal governments also need to recognize that our sovereignty means protecting the individual health and welfare of their citizens.

American Indians still face oppression in this country. We still have to deal with intolerance. And unfortunately, a lot of the pain we feel comes from our own people. Sadly, this is one of the darkest legacies of colonization.

The Cherokee high court ruling supporting same-sex marriage for its members should send a strong message to other tribal nations: Tribal governments can help put an end to oppression within our communities by embracing, accepting and legalizing marriage between Indians of the same sex.

Mark Anthony Rolo is a member of the Bad River Band of Ojibwe in northern Wisconsin, and the former executive director of the Native American Journalists Association. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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