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Native Sun News: Lakota elders debate tribal marriage traditions

Wives and children of Sitting Bull in 1891. From left: daughter Standing Holy, wife Seen By Her Nation, son Runs Away From, daughter Lodge In Sight and wife Four Robes. Photo from Library of Congress

Was a wedding ceremony a part of the traditional Lakota culture?
By Ernestine Chasing Hawk
Native Sun News Editor

PINE RIDGE –– Several elders from the Oglala Sioux Tribe questioned a memo that made same sex marriage legal on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, arguing that it is not traditional. However elders from Rosebud and Cheyenne River counter by stating that marriage ceremonies in general were never a part of Lakota tradition.

Attorney Mark Van Norman was asked by Ellen Fills The Pipe, Chair of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council Law and Order Committee, to give a legal opinion in regard to whether or not Oglala Sioux Tribal Law allowed same sex marriage.

Van Norman’s opinion was: “Yes, the Domestic Relations Code of the Tribe establishes marriage as a personal relationship arising out of a civil contract between two persons capable of giving necessary consent. It does not prohibit same-sex marriage.”

Shortly after the Van Norman memo was released, OST Chief Judge Kimberly Craven reportedly conducted a same sex marriage ceremony using President John Yellowbird Steele’s office as a wedding chapel without his knowledge.

Several Oglala Lakota elders voiced their opposition to the ruling, stating same sex marriages were not traditional. According to Fifth Member Jim Red Willow, Mel Lone Hill informed tribal council that the marriage violated tribal custom. Leonard Little Finger, Council of Lakota Elders believes same sex marriage is a sign of the times but that it is in conflict with traditional knowledge, “I can’t judge but I can say that from a traditional point of view same sex marriage is not traditional.”

(Ernestine Chasing Hawk can be reached at

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