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Oglala Sioux Tribe Is First to Pass Hate Crime Protections

Oglala Sioux Tribe Is First to Pass Hate Crime Protections

The vote on the bill was near-unanimous, passing 14 to two.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe has reportedly become the first Native American tribe to pass a hate crime law that covers LGBTQ+ and two-spirit people.

The tribe voted on September 4 to enact a new law covering sexual orientation and gender identity. Its council voted in favor of the law with 14 in support, two opposed, and one abstaining. Hate crimes now carry a punishment of up to a year in jail, along with a fine and the possibility of restitution.

While South Dakota, where the tribe's Pine Ridge reservation is based, lacks state-level protections for LGBTQ+ hate crime survivors, tribes are independent nations that can establish their own laws. The United States recognizes 573 native tribes, and there's no official accounting for how each one handles hate crimes. However, the news websiteIndian Country Today looked into the data and couldn't find any other tribe with comparable protections.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe was also the first in South Dakota to recognize marriage equality. It's estimated that only around 35 other tribes have granted the freedom to marry.

The passage of the new law was a contentious affair, with the vote preceded by two days of energetic debate. The law initially passed Oglala's council on July 8, but some members attempted to have it rescinded; instead they wanted to ask voters to determine whether bias-based crimes should be punished. There was also an attempt to overturn the tribe's recently passed marriage equality bill.

Among those opposing equality was Vina White Face-Steele. "This law is a moral sin; it is ungodly and unnatural, an abomination before the lord our god," she said, as the Daily Yonder website reported. She also claiming that recognizing marriage equality would protect sexual predators.

That drew a response from Chairperson Julian Bear Runner, who dismissed the religious basis for her arguments.

"Our way of life existed before the Bible," he said, according to Indian Country Today. "[...] Before I was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church, I was a Lakota. Before I served in the military, I was Lakota. Before I became tribal council president, I was Lakota and when I die, I will be Lakota."

The vote overturning marriage equality was tied, with Bear Runner casting a tie-breaking vote in favor to keep the law.

Members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe spoke to Indian Country Today about the law, with some elders speaking favorably about the important role that LGBTQ+ people -- also known as "winkte" -- play in its culture. Others expressed hostility, wishing that queer and transgender tribe members could be banished.

Among those pushing for heightened protections were Monique Mousseau and Felipa De Leon. In an interview, Mousseau said "many suicides on the reservation are related to gay-bashing and shaming" but noted that "authorities haven't been keeping data" on the subject.

Recent violence involving LGBTQ+ residents includes the 2017 murder of Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, a two-spirit person who belonged to the Oglala Sioux tribe.

RELATED | South Dakota Transgender Woman Found Dead in Her Apartment

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Matt Baume