Se-ah-dom Edmo, Coordinator at Indigenous Ways of Knowing Program at Lewis & Clark College, works firsthand with representatives of Native organizations and tribes. As part of collaborative work with Basic Rights Oregon, Native American Program of Legal Aid Services of Oregon and Western States Center, she has led the development of the Tribal Equity Toolkit: Tribal Resolutions and Codes to Support Two Spirit & LGBT Justice in Indian Country. This is the very first toolkit for tribal governments to advance equity for Two Spirit** and LGBT individuals and families. The Tribal Equity Toolkit tackles topics ranging from Two Spirit and transgender issues to relationship recognition and marriage equality. Not only has this toolkit been distributed to over 20 tribes, it also recently received the attention of the White House.
Join us on Friday, October 11 as we honor Se-ah-dom as a driving force in linking the movements for racial justice and marriage equality at our biggest event of the year, Ignite!, with the 2013 Fighting Spirit Award.
What do you consider the biggest accomplishment of Lewis & Clark’s Indigenous Ways Of Knowing (IWOK) program in the last 12 months?
Creating the partnership that supported the publication of the Tribal Equity Toolkit is the biggest accomplishment of the Indigenous Ways of Knowing (IWOK) program at Lewis & Clark over the last 12 months. Bringing together the expertise of the Native American Program of Legal Aid Services of Oregon (NAPOLS) with Basic Rights Oregon and support from the Western States Center and Pride Foundation was challenging; but the size of that challenge is nothing compared to the disparities in social and health indicators that Native American LGBT and Two Spirit individuals face on a daily basis. These disparities lead to cumulative outcomes that affect every area of life. The Toolkit provides Tribes with an opportunity to enshrine, in policy and Tribal Law, our continued commitments to justice and to demonstrate to the larger public, equity as an enduring Tribal value.
What is the Tribal Equity Toolkit?
The Tribal Equity Toolkit is a set of model Tribal codes and resolutions for Tribal Governments which work to protect ALL Tribal citizens and families. It is the first of its kind in the nation and covers a variety of aspects of life, including how we define family. The Toolkit focuses on protections for families, employment, housing, real property, public accommodations, education, health care (end of life) and bias-motivated (hate) crimes.
How was the Tribal Equity Toolkit created? What has it been used for?
My elders have always taught me that our words are our prayers; whether that is in our personal or professional life, we manifest what we put out into the world. The idea of the Toolkit began with listening to the stories and experience of Two Spirit and LGBT Native people. I was inspired by the Coquille and Suquamish Tribes and I saw in them a desire to reconcile our traditional beliefs of respect and inclusion, with what we practice as Tribal Governments. So I used generous grants from the Western States Center and the Pride Foundation to help cover the cost of legal scholarship and printing. I was lucky to find a great partner, the Native American Program of Legal Aid Services of Oregon, who had not only the experience and expertise, but also a shared vision and shared values. Next, the Legal Advisory Group at Basic Rights Oregon stepped in to help frame the issues and create congruency with the language of the LGBT rights movement. On November 1, 2012 we published it on our website, which is where it sits today–free and available for anyone to download and use.
What do you see as the next steps for IWOK?
Now the real work of social transformation and institutionalization begins. Over the last year we have worked on interviewing over 30 Elected Tribal Leaders, Executive Employees and Cultural Leaders from all over the Northwest about the readiness to implement the Toolkit. Our next step is to help Tribes do that work, so in 2014 we plan to hold a Continuing Legal Education on the Toolkit Summit to report back the findings of our interview project. Then we will also (drum roll) launch a Tribal Cohort who will work together to implement policies from the Toolkit and who will provide community wide trainings on Two Spirit and LGBT inclusion.
What other projects is the IWOK program working on?
We currently have three other active projects: the IWOK Summer Academy (which prepares Native Students for college), the Oregon Inter-Tribal Breastfeeding Coalition and the Oregon Tribal Histories & Sovereignty Curriculum Design Project. For the Oregon Tribal Histories & Sovereignty Curriculum Design Project, we are working with the Oregon Indian Education Association to develop content for a statewide curriculum that will be adopted throughout Oregon and teach K-12 students about Tribes and Tribal People in Oregon. Children who learn and understand Tribal Sovereignty will grow into citizens who know how to work together as local, state and national leaders. These leaders will then be responsible for respecting and upholding the supreme laws of this land, which also include honoring Treaties with Indigenous Nations.
Most LGBT statewide organizations have primarily focused on marriage, and many have not engaged trans communities and/or communities of color. This makes many trans people and LGBT people of color nervous when marriage campaigns come to our states. How can marriage campaigns be an opportunity to build stronger movements for racial justice and trans justice?
Elected Tribal Leaders believe that LGBT Justice is a sovereignty issue. For many Tribes, when they begin conversations about LGBT Justice and the protection of families and Tribal Citizens, it begins with marriage. Marriage is an entry point, and just the beginning, of how Tribal People come to understand all they ways we must work to protect and support our Tribal Citizens.
The work of decolonization can’t thoroughly happen without also addressing issues of Two Spirit & LGBT Justice. Colonization taught Tribal communities a great deal about homophobia and transphobia. As we work to consciously reclaim and return to our traditions, we must also reexamine how the effects of colonization remain enshrined in Tribal Policy, Law and Structure. LGBT Equality and Decolonization are inextricably linked, one cannot be truly be achieved without the other. So when we work on Two Spirit and LGBT Justice issues, we really work to protect and uphold the sovereignty of our Tribal Nations.
**The term Two Spirit was developed by LGBT Native Americans as a way to reclaim traditional histories, in which LGBT people were often greatly respected for their tribal contributions. These histories were eradicated through colonialism, but have recently resurfaced. Many LGBT Native Americans identify as Two Spirit.