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These Native-American Tribes Are Pioneering Marriage Equality

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Santa Ysabel Tribe, California (2013)
Following on the heels of the Supreme Court decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry, which allowed same-sex marriages to resume in California, the Santa Ysabel Tribe of northeastern San Diego County announced its full support of the LGBT community and marriage equality. "Native Americans have fought hard to establish and protect their own rights, and Santa Ysabel is determined to support our own, and other same-sex couples in their struggle to be recognized and treated fairly as citizens of this great nation," said Virgil Perez, tribal chairman. "In our support for their battle for equality, we want the LGBT community to know they are welcome here, and that the encouragement and respect of our membership are with them."

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Colville Tribe, Washington (2013)
In September 2013, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation joined the growing list of tribes that established legal marriage for gay and lesbian couples, a decision that affects the over 9,360 members of 12 different tribes. In the Colville tribal culture, LGBT people are known as Two-Spirited Peoples and have always had a place in tribal society. "They've always been accepted," said Council Chairman Michael Finley, noting that the new law will finally treat gay members of the tribe equally and with respect. The council vote received no objections, and the tribe began modify other codes and policies to accommodate the new amendment.

Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Oklahoma (2013)
Jason Pickel and Darren Black Bear, both members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, had been together for more than eight years when they became the first gay couple to legally marry in Oklahoma. The couple had wanted to marry for five years, but struggled to get legal recognition, going so far as to plan a trip to Iowa where same-sex marriage is recognized to obtain a license. When the Supreme Court struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, however, Pickel decided to call the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe's courthouse to see if they could do the deed. "I was really expecting a big no," said Pickel. "…but I called the tribe and they said, 'Yeah, come on down, it's 20 bucks.'" The tribal code only requires that both people in the marriage are of Native American descent and live within the tribe's jurisdiction without specifying gender.

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Leech Lake Tribe, Minnesota (2013)
Arnold Dahl and Matthew Wooley became the first gay couple to be married on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in November 2013. Dahl, a member of the tribe, met Wooley 15 years prior in Oregon, and the couple have been living on reservation land where they run the Lake Winnibigoshish General Store for over a decade. When they first moved in, some community members and business owners told the couple that they did not support their relationship. Nevertheless, after the couple's two-year campaign to establish marriage equality, many of those same naysayers happily congratulated the newlyweds. Dahl and Wooley plan to keep living on the reservation and hope to set a positive example for young gay Native Americans.

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Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Washington (2014)
The latest tribe to legalize same-sex marriage is the Puyallup Tribe of Washington which passed an amendment to the tribe's domestic relations code by unanimous vote on July 9. The amendment comes after the state of Washington adopted marriage equality, but it is an important change nonetheless. "It's really about equal treatment of all your members — all your members should have the same rights and under the circumstances prior to the enactment of the resolution, they didn't all have the same rights," said council member Maggie Edwards. While writing the amendment, Edwards looked to the Colville Tribe's earlier adoption of same-sex marriage, in particular their historic perspective of Two-Spirit People. The new marriage law keeps in the Puyallup Tribe's tradition of embracing all people, says Edwards. "In the outer culture, people can be mean if you're different. We embrace each other regardless of our lumps, bumps and whoever we love — that's just how it is here."


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