The Siletz Tribal Council in May passed legislation recognizing same sex marriage, joining at least 22 other tribes that provide legal recognition of same sex-couples.
The Tribal Council approved a marriage and dissolution of marriage ordinances at its May 15 meeting. The ordinances apply equally to heterosexual and same sex couples where at least one person is a Siletz Tribal member.
“The Siletz Tribe is committed as a government to serve its people well and treat all members with the respect, dignity and equal protections under Tribal law that they deserve,” said Tribal Council member Robert Kentta. “We did not have an existing ordinance that dealt with recognition of marriages to amend, so our new marriage law is inclusive from its inception.
It is also important to recognize that ancient Tribal traditions, beliefs and practices that amount to the law of our ancestors are consistent with the concepts of marriage equality in the ordinances just passed.”
Advisory Vote Favored Same Sex Marriage
Tribal leaders approved the ordinances after a nonbinding advisory vote in which tribal members voted 336-169 in favor of same sex marriage.
The advisory vote itself caused concern among some who feared that it could imply that the Tribe believes elections can decide equality or that a simple majority vote can be used to legislate discrimination.
Tribal Equity Toolkit
The seed for the same sex marriage ordinance was planted in 2010 when the Tribe formed the Siletz Change Team with support from the Western States Center to advance racial, gender and economic justice.
The Lewis & Clark College Indigenous Ways of Knowing (IWOK) Program, led by Se-ah-dom Edmo (Shoshone-Bannock/Yakama/Nez Perce) also contributed greatly with its education, training and supportive work around traditional diversity of gender roles and traditional cultural recognition of same-sex couples in Tribal communities.
Edmo pulled together a collaborative team that produced a “Tribal Equity Toolkit” for Tribal governments to use in developing equality-based law around marriage in their communities.
Kentta—the tribal councilor—said the Siletz Change Team was tasked with reviewing tribal policies, ordinances and codes to ensure all members received fair and equal treatment regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The team found that most of the policies were inclusive and required only minor tweaking to make the wording and intent clear to treat all members equally, including two spirit and same-sex households.
A Natural Step
“The Siletz Tribal Marriage Ordinance is just the natural next step in providing our members with the tools and community support needed to live the fullest, happiest and most productive lives possible, regardless of who they fall in love with,” Kentta said.
With the passing of these two ordinances, the Siletz Tribe joins at least 22 other Tribes that provide legal recognition of same-sex couples in their communities, including the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, Puyallup Tribe and Suquamish Tribe in Washington State.
Kentta praised the Siletz’s sister tribes for their “leadership and courage to stand up for what is right.”
“We can now be counted among you and look forward to others also taking this important step,” he said. “It’s about treating all Tribal members with equal respect and dignity – and recognizing and supporting their natural ability to make important life decisions for themselves.”