PINE RIDGE, S.D. — Two months after legalizing same-sex marriage, the Oglala Sioux Tribe approved hate crime legislation aimed at fighting attacks against LGBTQ people and other minorities.
"It's been a journey like no other," said Monique "Muffie" Mousseaux, who advocated for both laws with her wife, Felipa De Leon. "We're not doing this to help ourselves, we're doing this to help the entire Oglala Sioux Tribe and this generation and the next generation."
The law, passed by the tribal council Wednesday evening, Sept. 4, makes hate crimes punishable with up to one year in jail (the maximum allowed under tribal law), a fine and/or restitution. The OST secretary did not return phone calls asking about the vote tally and other details.
A hate crime is defined as a crime where the defendant intentionally targets a victim or property because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person, the law says.
The law is the first of its kind among South Dakota's nine Native American tribes, according to a YouTube video by the Lakota Law Project, and it protects the same groups of people protected under federal law. South Dakota makes it a felony punishable by up to two years in prison to maliciously intimidate or harass people based on their race, ethnicity, religion, ancestry or national origin, but a legislative committee failed to pass a bill this year that would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the hate crimes law.
Before this law, people who assaulted or stole from LGBTQ people and other minorities due to their identities could be charged with assault and theft, but not with a hate crime.
Mousseaux and De Leon said it's important for these people to also be charged with a hate crime to have the reason for their crime on record.
"This will be a foundation of protections and acceptance and a new beginning on our reservation as far as the mentality of stop shaming anybody that is different and remember our cultural ways," Mousseaux said.
The couple said they were moved that council members spoke about Two Spirits being part of Lakota culture and Police Chief Robert Ecoffey speaking in favor of the hate crime law, saying there are crimes committed on the reservation that are motivated by hate. But they also said they've faced pushback since the council voted 12-3 with one abstention on July 8 to legalize same-sex marriage.
Some council members and OST citizens nearly succeeded in trying to reverse the same-sex marriage law during the council meeting this week. The council voted 8-8 to rescind the same-sex marriage law, but President Julian Bear Runner broke the tie with a 'no' vote to reject a call for a same-sex marriage referendum to be added to the 2020 general election, according to the Lakota Times.
During the Tuesday meeting, an elder called the same-sex marriage law a "moral sin" and cited Bible verses to argue why such relations are against Christianity and nature, according to a video of the meeting.
"Hate did show itself during this journey," Mousseaux said. But she said hearing that and other testimony against the bills shows exactly why the laws are needed.
"Our culture was here prior to the religious factions that all came onto this land and that was very hurtful for our youth to hear that right now. But it was important that that did take place because that's why this law needs to take place, because of that silencing, that shaming, that complete hatred," Mousseaux said. "That's the reason why there's suicides, that's the reason why there's beatings and bashings."
Mousseaux and De Leon said they were twice physically attacked on the reservation, and De Leon's 16-year-old niece killed herself in 2015 after being harassed about her sexual orientation.