BELCOURT, N.D. — The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa will vote Thursday, Aug. 6, to adopt a tribal code amendment that would legalize same-sex marriage for enrolled members. If passed, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa would be the first tribal nation in North Dakota's borders to recognize civil unions.
Activists state recognition of gay marriage within the tribe is long overdue, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled more than five years ago that same-sex marriage was a guaranteed right within all 50 U.S. states. Because tribal nations are sovereign, however, the court ruling did not apply to the 574 federally recognized tribes within U.S. borders.
"The bylaws are there not only for equality, but for our heritage and our culture," said Jorden Laducer, an executive co-director with the local LGBTQ+ nonprofit Magic City Equality and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. "The two-spirited community has always been a part of Native American culture."
"Two spirit” is an umbrella term used in some Indigenous communities for gender queer, gender fluid and gender nonconforming tribal members.
On Thursday, Magic City Equality, in conjunction with Turtle Mountain tribal advocates, will hold a march to show support for the amendment that would recognize same-sex marriage within the nation. The tribe's domestic relations Tribal Code currently refers to marriage between a "man and woman" throughout the law. The amendment would simply add that "civil unions" are allowed on the reservation, said Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Chairman Jamie Azure.
Azure said he is personally in favor of the amendment, but the decision is ultimately up to the eight-person Tribal Council who will vote on the modification to the Tribal Code.
Laducer said the majority of the council is in favor of the amendment, but not all council members.
"We're hoping that people can just be who they are," Azure said. "You are the way you were born (and) you were created in the image of that higher power."
The main objection to the amendment, Azure said, is based on religious grounds.
Christianity is weaved in the tribal nation's history, as Catholic missionaries came to the nation's lands to establish churches decades ago. Belcourt, Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation's flagship city, is even named after the French Catholic priest Father George Belcourt, according to the informational pamphlet "Who I Am" created by the Turtle Mountain Community College.
Before the missionaries, the people of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa accepted two-spirited people because their way of life was based on the seven teachings of the Anishinabe, or the first, original people, said Leslie Peltier, a social sciences instructor at the Turtle Mountain Community College.
"We loved our children so much, we never tried to influence them. We accepted things the way they were because we were humble people and honest with each other," Peltier said. "Honesty is not about your own opinion. It's about respecting and loving each other."
The seven teachings — wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth — are the guiding principles of life for the Anishinabe, and somewhere along the way, some of those principles may have become diluted since the missionaries' arrival, she said.
For many traditional Christian groups, marriage should be between a man and a woman and the marriage of those of the same gender is immoral.
Peltier said that in the end, the way people classify or "categorize" one another is not important.
"What matters is your soul," she said. "If you go out of this world in a good way, if you go out the same way you came in as a person, then the Creator will bring blessings on you."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org