Tribal courts, such as those who govern the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) in North Carolina have their own governing bodies and laws outside of the United States. In 2014, the Eastern Band Tribal Council passed a resolution that would ban all marriage between same-sex couples. Tamara Thompson and her partner Jillian Goldstein, who met at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, set out to make a change in their Native American reservation, only to be immediately shot down by the Tribal Council.
Tribal Council Chair Adam Wachacha dismissed Thompson’s well-researched LGBTQ-inclusive bill at the preliminary stages. The shock of such an abrupt rejection sent Thompson reeling and she insisted that Wachacha’s actions should not have been possible — the resolution should have been merely reviewed, and not ruled upon, at this reading.
She complained to a reporter for the news and culture website Cherokee One Feather that, although she and Goldstein could marry in the United States, they would not be considered wives within their Cherokee community. This was further complicated by the fact that Goldstein is not an enrolled member of the Eastern Band.
Atsei Cooper, however, is an enrolled member. Cooper was raised by two moms and identifies as bisexual. In an effort to create some kind of tribal LGBTQ cohesion, Cooper, tribal member Justin Lee and other LGBTQ members and friends of the Cherokee Qualla Boundary created a Facebook Group called “Nudale Adantedi,” meaning “different hearted, different spirited.”
More than 400 individuals have joined this group and they, along with Thompson, are hoping to reach out to the Tribal Council once more. This group keeps LGBTQ individuals all over the country informed on the elections, hearings and rulings of the EBCI.
“Our goal is to bring same-sex marriage to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians,” Cooper told radio station WFAE 90.7. “On top of that, we want decolonial education and changing the homophobic and transphobic culture that we have adopted here.” The EBCI has been criticized by many community members for having strayed from their traditional attitudes of love and acceptance.
The Nudale Adentedi group mentions that the shift from a matriarchal to a more patriarchal society is said to have made for a more conservative Council. This is yet to be seen, but many members of the Cherokee community are waiting for the July 1 Tribal Council meeting results. LGBTQ and allied members of the EBCI intend on making a demonstration before the meeting as a display of solidarity.
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