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Winnebago Talks – Ep. 7 (4/12/2022)

Join us for Episode 7 of "Winnebago Talks" with Communications Officer Garan Coons, Communications Office Manager Bethani Redhorn, and W.I.N. Office Manager Tyler Snake.

Posted by Winnebago The-BigVoice on Tuesday, April 12, 2022
Winnebago The-BigVoice: Winnebago Talks – Ep. 7 (4/12/2022)
Winnebago Tribe takes action to address marriage controversy
‘Why shouldn’t we have the same rights that they have?’
Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Tyler LaMere (he/they) never felt like their two-spirit identity conflicted with their identity as a Winnebago person.

But when LaMere learned some of their tribe’s leaders had voted to not recognize same-sex marriage, he began to fear for themselves and other LGBTQ citizens of the Winnebago Tribe.

“It cut deep, but it was also very infuriating,” the 17-year-old young tribal citizen said. “As a Winnebago, it felt like I was conflicted with my identity at that moment.”

On March 24, the Winnebago Tribal Council narrowly approved a resolution to change tribal codes to no longer allow LGBTQ people to marry but to allow them to divorce. A request had been made by the tribe’s judicial system to clarify tribal codes related to who should be allowed to marry and divorce.

After learning of the council’s decision, LaMere decided to act, posting a video on TikTok that has since garnered more than 923,000 views. In the video, @hucpiga expressed frustration at the tribe’s decision, as well as comments made by some council members that they considered homophobic.

@hucpiga on TikTok
Posting as @hucpiga on TikTok, Tyler LaMere has drawn attention to the struggles LGBTQ people face in Indian Country. A video about same-sex marriage within the Winnebago Tribe has been viewed more than 923,000 times since being posted on the social media platform in early April 2022. Screenshot @hucpiga

LaMere said some council members used the term “shongay,” a Ho-Chunk word that she said once meant “queer” but that today is used as a slur.

“The council members that helped to vote to ban gay marriage said that we need to move those shongays outside of our tribe because they do not belong and they do not have any purpose here,” LaMere said.

LaMere’s video encouraged Winnebago tribal leaders to rescind their March 24 decision affecting same-sex marriage on the Winnebago Reservation in northeast Nebraska.

On Monday, the council voted overwhelmingly to recognize same-sex marriage and divorce.

“There was a real humbleness of the leadership to apologize to the relatives that they had offended,” said Winnebago Chairwoman Victoria Kitcheyan, speaking Tuesday on the tribe’s radio station The Big Voice, KWTN 109.9 FM. “I need to hold my team accountable so we did that that day by revisiting that discussion.”

Kitcheyan apologized to any two-spirit tribal citizens offended by the council’s earlier decision and said she plans to host a listening session on April 22 where people can discuss the issue further. And she thanked LaMere and other two-spirit tribal citizens and allies who spoke to the council Monday about its earlier decision.

One of those tribal citizens was Willy Bass, a 34-year-old two-spirit Winnebago man.

Bass, who is employed by the tribe’s economic development corporation, Ho-Chunk, Inc., said he first learned about the tribal council’s March 24 decision while having lunch with his mother.

“Honestly, I didn’t know how to react,” he said. “I knew sort of deep down that this day was going to come.”

Like LaMere, he felt compelled to speak out on the social platform he knew best: Facebook.

“As a happily married two-spirit Winnebago man in the 21st century, it is truly disappointing and sickening that hate still exists at the seats of our tribal leadership,” Bass wrote Sunday. “After all the progress we have made as a tribe in recent years, we took several steps back that day.”

He lamented the council’s decision not to seek opinions from the tribe’s LGBTQ community before making its decision. Bass said people don’t choose to be gay. They just are.

And Bass said he worried the council’s decision may have harmed the tribe’s reputation as a national leader in tribal economic development.

So on Monday, he attended the council’s meeting, where he was asked to speak.

“I was caught off guard, but I knew that it was time to speak up and speak out,” he said.

He shared his story and talked about his own role as a productive and caring member of his tribe and asked the council members why some of them felt he shouldn’t be able to marry the person he loves.

“We’re just like them,” Bass said. “Why shouldn’t we have the same rights that they have?”

For their part, LaMere said he is happy the council rescinded its earlier resolution.

LaMere said their tribe once held great respect for its two-spirit relatives, even allowing them to become leaders and healers. He attributes contemporary homophobic attitudes to the impacts of colonization and assimilation.

“I do not blame them or think negatively of them in any way because we are all affected by colonization and assimilation in some ways,” LaMere said.

LaMere learned about the council’s decision to recognize same-sex marriage while driving Tuesday – and had to pull over and cry.

“All kinds of emotions were overwhelming me,” LaMere told Indianz.Com. “It’s given me a renewed sense of hope and has almost turned a whole new page for me in my process of life and way of thinking.”

Note: Indianz.Com is owned by Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic development corporation of the Winnebago Tribe. The website operates independently and is not involved in the corporation’s activities.
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