Oregon's Tribal Equity Work Captured White House's Attention
Se-ah-dom Edmo never imagined she would be meeting with President Obama's Senior Administrator Valerie Jarrett to discuss LGBTQ rights in Native American tribal law. On Sept 4th that's exactly what she did along with nearly 20 other representatives from N.W. Native organizations and Tribes.
Five years ago, scholar and civil rights activist Se-ah-dom Edmo would never have imagined she would be meeting with President Obama's Senior Administrator Valerie Jarrett and a team of government officials to discuss the implementation of LGBTQ rights into Native American tribal law. However, on September 4th, that's exactly what she did along with nearly 20 other representatives from N.W. Native organizations and Tribes.
Four years ago, Se-ah-dom started working with Western States Center’s Uniting Communities program which helps organizations of color to support LGBTQ Equality. "When The Center asked me to be a part of United Communities, I thought 'No, I’m not LGBT or Q but I decided to say yes, and it has really changed my perspective." Se-ah-dom feels that the program served to heighten her awareness about the challenges her queer friends and relatives face; she heard stories about the rejection and trauma suffered by Tribal People when they came out to their communities and families. She let this suffering be a motivation for her to step up as an ally; "Traditionally, being Two Spirit was honored in Native culture, but that stance was distorted by colonization and we are working to heal and restore that narrative."
With support from The Center and other organizations, Se-ah-dom, coordinator of Indigenous Ways of Knowing program at Lewis & Clark College, coordinated the writing of the Tribal Equity Toolkit: Tribal Resolutions and Codes to Support Two Spirit & LGBT Justice in Indian Country. The toolkit was developed to give tribal law makers an overview of legal issues that impact the equal treatment of Two Spirit Native Americans.
As part of Se-ah-dom's research for the Toolkit, she engaged in a "community scan" - discussing with Two Spirit / LGBTQ Native folks, and community leaders, the issues facing their communities:
The data was astounding. In one Tribal Community, 80% of the women in the drug and alcohol recovery program identified as Two Spirit. One tribal leader told us about the recent suicide of a Two Spirit youth. People have internalized these colonizing ideas. Because we have been working with Uniting Communities for four years, we were able to work deeply on and bring a Tribal Sovereignty lens to this issue, which was extremely helpful for folks. Now we are working on cultural restoration by operationalizing our traditional values into tribal government structures.
When Se-ah-dom received an invitation to meet with the Obama Administration, she was thrilled. "The meeting went very well; the Administration thought the Toolkit was an ‘extraordinary and wise approach’ and has since distributed it nationwide to all U.S. attorneys that are members of the Attorney General’s Native American Issues Subcommittee. We gave Toolkits to the other 20 Native representatives at the meeting."
Se-ah-dom felt the meeting also gave her an opportunity to explore with other representatives the urban/reservation divide that exists between Native Organizations and Tribal/ Reservation needs. “There were representatives there from The Seattle Indian Health Board, Board members from the N.W. Two Spirit Society, and Daybreak Star which operates a homeless shelter for Native youth, many of whom are Two Spirit.” Se-ah-dom feels that “Tribes are ready to implement changes to the institutional framework and the U.S. attorneys are ready to support those changes. We are starting conversations about restorative justice, marriage and defining families. The Toolkit generates opportunities for individual and interpersonal growth and communication. One respondent said it best; ‘Everyone wants to be loved, accepted and play an important role in their community.’ That’s the lived experience that this work can create.”