OKLAHOMA: Cherokee Nation Attorney General Cites History Of Same-Sex Rituals In Marriage Ruling

Bloomberg reports:

What’s perhaps most remarkable about the attorney general’s opinion is how it grounded its argument in Cherokee tradition. In a section titled “Perpetual Partnership and Marriage in the Cherokee Nation,” Hembree devoted significant attention to a ceremony of devotion that was traditionally performed between two men at an annual festival.

Hembree quoted in its entirety an eyewitness description from 1836 by John Howard Payne, a picaresque writer, composer and traveler. In Payne’s account, the ritual “sprang from a passionate friendship between young men” that led them “mutually to a solemn act of devotedness to each other.” The young men would engage in “silent interchange of garment after garment, until each was clad in the other’s dress.”

According to Hembree, “the relationship described in some respects would seem to parallel a modern-day same-sex marriage” — and received “recognition by the other members of the tribe.”

The attorney general’s opinion also referred to a 19th century report on Cherokee customs that stated, “There were among them formerly men who assumed the dress and performed all the duties of women and who lives full lives in this manner.” This resonates with contemporaneous reports from many tribes, especially in the Great Plains, of men who lived as women.

  • MBear

    America: a long standing tradition of ghey marriage!

  • Oikos
    • OK–let’s get past Gender 101, because American culture automatically defaults to binary concepts. This is where the historic term “Berdache” was used by observers of American Indian culture and where you consistently run into references of “they had men who dressed as women and did the work of women” stuff, so were considered transvestites. I was part of the group of American Indians and First Nations people who were meeting annually over LGBT concerns, but were frustrated by the fact many of us came from cultures where things were “more complicated” and we felt LGBT wasn’t quite capturing the strong spirituality elements of our people–and thus searched for what we called a “working term” to see if we could get greater clarification. I was part of the discussion that led to the proposal of “Two-Spirited.” To emphasize this was a “working term,” it’s since evolved from the 90s to “Two-Spirit” because “Two-Spirited” was felt by some to sound “too historic” when we wanted a viable and contemporary term. Like a Venn Diagram, Two-Spirit overlaps the LGBT community, but isn’t exactly the same thing. We definitely have Native people who identify as LGBT, but not Two-Spirit, for example.

      The lovely Oikos posted a photo of Hosteen Klah, a Navajo Two-Spirit who would dress in a combination of male/female gendered clothing. Hosteen is best known as a weaver, as even now, in the 21st century, if you see a “male” name on a Navajo rug or blanket, the weaver is mostly likely a Two-Spirit person. Hosteen was the first to weave designs from Navajo sandpaintings into weavings.

      Let me add a photo of Osh-Tisch, which translates into English as Finds-Them-And-Kills-Them (pretty butch name, huh?), one of the best known of the Crow Two-Spirits (or to be precise, a “Bote” in their language since the English term “Two-Spirit” hadn’t been coined during FTAKT’s time). One of the reasons we rejected the historic term “Berdache” is it isn’t even from a Native American language–it’s an old Persian term (Frenchified as “Berdache” and the Spanish used their version–“Berhada”) that referenced a male sex slave and in the 1700s, was a label Europeans used for someone passive (receptive/bottom) in a male same-sex relationship. So–non-Native term that eliminates any females (more on that in a moment), originally meant human trafficking, and didn’t include any “tops.” The Crow are also of interest because a federal appointed physician rounded up 19 Botes to determine if they were hermaphrodites, because that sort of made sense to the “intellectuals” of the time. He found all 19 to have “standard” male genitalia. Notice no “female” Two-Spirits were rounded up and examined. Early historians and anthropologists were busy looking at those of other cultures they considered “male,” so there was often a major gap of knowledge when it came to “female cultures.”

      But see-many of our Native languages have more than two classifications of gender. In the Pacific NW, some communities had as many as 8 classifications of gender. Now imagine my trying to explain that to the probing physician who was examining Finds-Them-And-Kills-Them, when I have enough of a challenge explaining it to straight and gay men in 2016. English and other western languages lack the concepts to really “get it,’ and default back to “male/female.”

      I’m attaching a photo of FTAKT later on. Look closely at FTAKT’s clothing. The top is decorated with abalone disks, exactly like the ones I’m wearing braided into my hair as I type this. Traditionally, women’s dresses from this cultural area were decorated with elk teeth, shells, and/or beads. When you start looking closely at the historic photos of Two-Spirit people, they often were wearing clothing that was different from that of “standard” males or females, or were a combination of gendered clothing (like Hosteen). The most famous Two-Spirit of all (the best documented) was from the Zuni Pueblo. The iconic photo of We-Wha shows We-Wha in classic female attire (and the hairstyle indicated virginity–later photos show a different hairstyle), but I suspect if the Zuni were like my family, getting your picture taken was a big deal because most of us didn’t own stock in Kodak. On a serious level, our earliest family photos were postcards, taken by traveling White photographers to sell to tourists. That meant when you had your picture taken, you dressed in your very finest attire. We-Wha was reported to normally dress in a mixture of male/female style clothing.

      So–is FTAKT “dressed as a woman?” Or is this the clothing of a Two-Spirit person who isn’t precisely male or female? This isn’t about hormone replacement therapy or Gender Confirmation Surgery. Older cultures have a concept of “social genitals,” where if you dress a certain way, you’ll be recognized and responded to in a certain way. Which is why the Jesuits in their long black dresses weren’t first considered as “standard males” when first encountered by American Indians (the jokes write themselves).

      Another JMG mentions polygamy. This was not unusual in many Native Nations, until the federal government outlawed it in the late 1800s. A Chief (like Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse) had multiple spouses–not as a sexual harem, but because the Chief provided for the people as a whole (yes–there is a history of female chiefs–or in many cases, Two-Spirit biological female chiefs who married biological females), making sure the elderly and orphans were cared for, supported, clothed, and fed. This was more easily done if the Chief wasn’t a “two person operation.” On a practical level, Two-Spirit spouses, who might not be able to provide children, were then able to adopt and co-parent the children of the biological female wife/wives of the Chief.

      The point of this–while from a modern perspective, we might conceive of some Native relationships that “sprang from a passionate friendship between young men” with each other, it wasn’t always seen in that way by their peers–or maybe it would be more accurate that the “young men” were noticed by White men, who didn’t notice a Two-Spirit biological male in a relationship with a “standard” biological male, because they (the way I’ve experienced in most of my life) perceived the Two-Spirit as a woman with a man–nothing to see here).

      I didn’t know of the Cherokee having an annual Winter dance involving the male/male ceremony, but among my mom’s Sahaptin people, there was a historic dance done in the Winter (i mentioned in an earlier post we traditionally celebrated the longest night of the year before Whites arrived) called “the Stick Dance.” I knew it well because the Stick used to live in our hall closet. During the Stick Dance, a couple would approach the Holder of The Stick (in this case, my Stepfather). The Stick would be placed across their shoulders as they danced together, and this was considered a formal proposal. By the time I was born (and polygamy outlawed) the Stick Dance was performed “for fun,” although the older peopl https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1b5e1d87eef77d0fd36ed11c19f3113d560c7250b1489e5026475444c0baa508.jpg e would share its original meaning.

      • Oikos

        Thank you for posting this. I am familiar with much of this and particularly with the need for decolonization of indigenous knowledge. If you haven’t read it (not really about sexuality) but Wendy Makoons Geniusz’ ‘Our Knowledge is not primitive’ is an excellent read.

      • And here’s what a elk-tooth decorated dress looks like. Btw–elk-tooth dresses were prized as a sign of wealth since each elk only has two of these teeth, so looks like these ladies had to wipe out a herd. Elk (fun fact) are related to the Walrus, and the teeth are actually ivory. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2c77fb05fb403bc4a5bbaf08023bee293ad50b47876018fe027577c2e012c579.jpg

        • And to show you the use of abalone disks worn as braid ties, I’m attaching a photo of me with a Significant Other, just because it’s Throwback Thursday. Once you stop looking at Chris, a little below my ear you can see an abalone disk, about the size of FTAKT used. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cddce68f146251d64c473c8e845dea9ee8b71b431cb9da4d26bbd731a2a7ef3f.jpg

          • And to show the male/female gendered clothing mix lives on, here’s a photo of a First Nation’s Two-Spirit with her French-Canadian boyfriend. I think this is an example of where they could walk into most places in the States and Canada and just be seen as a ‘standard’ couple. There’s a secret history of a number of First Nation Two-Spirits who worked as female model in Europe where they were just perceived as ‘standard’ biological females. But if you look again–she’s in a buckskin dress (usually seen as ‘female’) but also you’ll see a bone breastplate that is usually considered “male.” Male breastplates are strung horizontally, while female breastplates are strung vertically. Btw–really lovely person in all way, not just in her looks. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e0182f01d8fc4c3d2f16dca84640b005bdccaa6e146869700980bbba92afdd50.jpg

          • And just because I know my JMG folks–here’s another photo of Chris, since I’m sure some of you will enjoy looking at him more than some dusty old Indians, lol. Another fun fact–Chris was the model used for the first condom cover produced by the Seattle AIDS Project, which eventually became the Lifelong AIDS Alliance. in the interest of TMI, it was an odd experience to have slept with Chris the night before and then the next evening, attend the launch of the condom covers and watch all these men pawing over the piles of his condom covers. He was cropped in the photo so you only saw his chin and a fraction of an inch above his pubic hair. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9866158bceef7a292fad99e4cdd8fc9d17a146b7e0f112182196fbd4dd4cfdf0.jpg

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  • Bill Post

    The Republicons also never mention that women were property …because jesus.

    • TexasBoy

      Biblically, women were property long before Jesus. Jesus just reinforced it.

      • lymis

        Actually, a pretty strong case can be made that early Christians, if not Jesus himself, shattered a lot of gender norms. There’s a lot of significant participation and even equality of women hinted at even in what survived into the Bible.

        Not to mention, “In Christ, there is neither… male nor female….”

        But Paul, with his personal obsession over Timothy’s foreskin, pretty much stomped all over that. (The equality, that is. Scripture is silent on what he got up to with the foreskin.)

        • TexasBoy

          Paul was likely a self-loathing gay. He also said men should remain single for the Kingdom of God, and really didn’t like marriage, but if a man could not control his sexual urges, then marriage would be preferable. He also believe the “end times” would come during his lifetime, and every generation since has believed that bull.

    • Actually throughout most of history women have always been property. It has only been within the last 100 years or so that women haven’t been considered property. As late as the ’70s, women in France still had to have a father, husband or other male relative open an trading account for her. When women won the vote, that was truly the beginning of their being their own property.

      • Dazzer

        Weirdly, one of the first emancipators of women was the Prophet Mohammed. He established inheritance laws that allowed wives and unwed daughters to inherit a (small) proportion of their fathers’ or husbands’ estates.

        It wasn’t as much as a man could inherit, but it was still miles ahead of the Christian tradition at the time.

        In the Christian tradition, only women of high estate (basically royalty) could inherit money and property and power.

        Compare that to 10th century Islamic societies in which women could be top judges and heads of universities – or merchants in their own right.

        And theren are still laws in force in several Islamic nations (notably Iran) whereby a woman can divorce her husband for being bad at sex. (While this is law, it’s rarely invoked because the prestige and power of women has declined in Islamic societies over the centuries.)

        In NO way am I pretnding that Islam is good or great for women – it’s an intensely parochial system, but in Mohammed’s time, women’s legal rights were revolutionary.

  • Skeptical_Inquirer

    Christianity is such a culture and soul destroying plague.

    • lymis

      Yes, because Bronze Age non-Christian societies were so notably better on gender equality.


      • Frostbite

        or health care, foreign policy, or anything..

  • I love this!

  • Ragnar Lothbrok

    What once was, will be again.

    -forgot what chief said that

  • lymis

    “The young men would engage in “silent interchange of garment after garment, until each was clad in the other’s dress.”

    A tradition that should be more widely adopted. It would certainly make for some significantly less boring wedding ceremonies.

    • Rolf

      Somehow, I found that really moving. It implies so much more than the simple exchange of rings.

    • EdA

      But what if the guys were of very different sizes?

      Not that I’m objecting to the idea.

  • Scott MB

    So long before the Europeans fled their country to escape religious rule and come rape and pillage this country, they had some form of same sex marriage. Well then that sort of blows their theory out of the water that it has been tradition of a one man one woman marriage. Plus as we all know they don’t read their own book of fiction, ‘cuz it surely says that polygamy is A-OK with the big invisible man in the sky. Also, incest must have been pretty groovy for him too, you know Adam and Eve only having two sons and they were to populate the world. Talk about an Oedipus complex…yuck!


      Technically the Europeans you’re thinking of didn’t really come here to “escape” religious rule, but to live in a land where only their religion ruled. So it’s more like they came to “create” religious rule.

    • The_Wretched

      Polygamy is not uncommon across the globe and time. The English islands had group marriages before christianization. Part of the reputation poly has in the US is the mormon ‘sister-wives’ – typically characterized by ever younger wives and lack of consent of the wives. The kink community has defacto poly for much of it. It’s just as common for women to have 2-3 guys as the other way around.

      As to bible incest…it’s ok with that. The adam/eve set, however, had other people from the Land of Nod.

  • Mark McGovern

    So, same sex marriage was the law of the land by the original residents. So was conservation, respect for the environment, and honoring (as opposed to pillaging) of the land.

    • Bj Lincoln

      Sad the white man almost killed them all off. It wasn’t until 1977 did the last Indian School close in Cleveland. Those schools were worse than being slaughtered. The children lost there culture, language and religion there.

      • Mark McGovern

        Sad part is, their traditions and culture could have saved us all from squandering everything we took from them.

      • A Native elder speaking at a conference in Canada told us the reason why we were slaughtered–“The first law of a criminal–get rid of the witnesses to the crime.” The federal policy was focused on exterminating us, but we were really expensive to kill. One scholar estimated by the time the reservations were created, it was costing about a million dollars per American Indian to kill. Reservations were considered cheaper, particularly since we were busy dying after exposure to White diseases. It’s estimated up to 90% of Natives died within two generations of White contact.

        Interesting, in connection to the Cherokee–the federal government set a “loophole” in terms of treaty rights and resources, having the Bureau of Indian Affairs set the standard of who is and who isn’t “certified” as a “real” American Indian. That standard is based on blood quantum. I’m part of the only American ethnic group the feds track in the manner the American Kennel Club tracks poodles. The standard is 1/4 blood of a federally recognized tribe.

        A federally recognized tribe is usually one that signed a treaty with the U.S. – the way you signed a treaty was usually to be at war with the United States. In the case of Chief Seattle’s people, where Seattle was friends with the incoming white settlers, the American government refused to recognize Chief Seattle’s Duwamish people as “real” American Indians, while recognizing their less friendly neighbors (and relatives) who had battled the American government and then signed a treaty. There are some Native Nations who are recognized by a state, but not federally.

        The purpose of this was always fiduciary l–to restrict financial resources to American Indians and Alaskan Natives. Notice identify normally rests on being 1/4 (so a grandparent must be 4/4 or a “full blood” for one to be eligible). But notice it’s 1/4th of A federally recognized tribe. My mom’s people are from the Pacific NW, where communities tended to be small and intermarried a lot to extend social and support networks. This is why if you meet a Native person from the NW, “What Native Nation are you from?” he or she might answer, “Duwamish.” But if you then ask, “And what else?” You may be told: “Oh, Puyallup, Nisqually, Yakama, Tulalip, and Muckleshoot.” This means an individual can be 4/4 American Indian, but because he or she is not 1/4th of any ONE of the tribes–they aren’t considered a “real” American Indian.

        Screwy, huh? Then in the Eisenhower Administration, in order to further restrict treaty promised resources, the feds set up an evaluation of all treaty tribes as to when they would no longer need any form of federal support (such as education and health care, both of which are listed in all of the over 400 federal treaties). The ones with the most resources were offered a “buy out” where each tribal member was promised a check. In exchange, they gave up their treaty rights and would no longer be considered American Indian. The 50s were a time of great reservation poverty (even more so than today) and discrimination. American Indians, for example, were federally forbidden to go into a bar and buy alcohol. One of my professors explained when he was in the army he’d go out with his company members to a bar and when a bartender questioned him, he’d claim to be Hawaiian to get served.

        Many of the reservations didn’t have electricity or running water, so while I have family issues about “selling out,” (my family was called “Blanket Indians” because we would never “sell out.”), I do understand the attraction for those checks at that period of time.

        Then they set up the Indian Relocation Program, encouraging tribal members to leave the reservation–the government paid for their transpiration to specific urban centers, like NYC, Chicago, and Los Angeles (cities that even now have a relatively high Native population from the Relocation Program). They were offered brief occupational training in things like welding and heavy equipment moving. All jobs which were not available on their home reservations. The Program also was literally a one-way ticket. So those who participated often had no way to get home, and the short training meant few companies would hire them, and many white businesses just saw us as undesirable racial minorities in a pre-civil rights reality. The training was deliberately chosen as something that didn’t exist on the reservations, so you couldn’t actually use your new skills back home. Why go to so much trouble? A treaty loophole was that the resources were offered to those “living on or near an Indian reservation.” So good luck getting Indian Health Services care if you were a Lakota Indian from South Dakota now in Los Angeles.

        Back to the Cherokee–the Cherokee Nation is one of the few to reject blood quantum as a way of establishing membership, or more precisely, the 1/4 standard and for many years, permitted membership to those of 1/64th blood. For those of you who remember the racist attack Scott Brown did against Elizabeth Warren as a Pocahontas wanna-be, she mentioned her heritage included Cherokee and Delaware. Both the Cherokee and Delaware did away with blood requirements completely, so shaming Warren for not having “enough” Native blood is irrelevant. Besides, there’s an issue of empowerment where a Native Nation was making its own determination of those they considered one of their own.

        In full disclosure, while I’m delighted by the recent marriage equality ruling, I lost a lot of respect a few years ago when the Cherokee Nation attempted to purge its tribal rolls of long-established (as in what–centuries?) families that were considered to be “too Black,” in the sense of being descended from slaves–that the Cherokee had owned. The purpose was to do exactly what the American government has tried to do–deny resources by the use of identity politics. Just me, but I suspect the Cherokee tribal council members that rammed through the ban of same-sex marriage their AG is now striking down, were the same ones trying to purge their tribal rolls–the time period would line up.

        Sigh, no people are perfect. We’re all a mixture of the bad and the good. (Although over the years, the Republican party has made me question even this).

  • EweTaw

    There are some other native US tribes that have a history of two-spirit members as well as recognizing a partnering of same sex couples. What would really disturb Oklahoma, as well as scare white people everywhere, is the existence of several triobander societies in New Guinea where young boys are assigned to service older men and consume their seed until they reach adulthood (age 14). They believe that semen is a precious source of reproductive magic and must be handed down from adults to children to conserve what little there is. Woman have the worst of it in their society. Only approached to have intercourse for the purpose of creating offspring. And women who demand more sex from their husbands than the husbands want to engage in are tied to logs and accused of witchcraft.

  • David Walker

    It rather begs the question, “So who were the real savages?”

    • JWC

      the church and its ouritanical ways