The Little Traverse Bay Bands (LTBB) of Odawa Indians in Harbor Springs, Michigan made history March 3 when their council voted 5–4 to recognize same-sex marriages on their reservation. This was the second time in as many years the proposed statute was brought up for a vote by the council, who rejected it 5–4 last summer. At a council member’s request, a provision was then added requiring that at least one member of the same-sex couple be a tribal citizen, and that seemed to swing the vote.
The tribe hopes it has opened the door for other tribes to follow. It has now joined at least two other tribes in the United States who recognize same-sex marriages; the Coquille Tribe in North Bend, Oregon and the Suquamish Tribe in Suquamish, Washington.
LTBB Chairman Dexter McNamara signed the statute into law on March 15, and just minutes later, the tribe again made history by performing a marriage ceremony for two men who recently celebrated their 30th anniversary. Tim LaCroix, 53, a member of the tribe and Gene Barfield, 60, became the first same-sex couple in Michigan to exchange rings and a kiss in front of family and friends at the tribe’s
administrative complex during a ceremony that blended traditional Native culture with Western vows. During the ceremony, a maple sapling was bent into a hoop and cedar, sage, tobacco and sweetgrass were tied to it. The sweetgrass was lit and the hoop was moved over and around the couple to invite good spirits while warding off bad ones. As the tribal chairman pronounced them married, the men joyfully embraced and accepted congratulatory handshakes and hugs from those around them.
“This is about tribal people being happy,” McNamara said, adding that he is happy to report he has been approached by another tribal chairman in Michigan who may be considering changes to his tribe’s marriage law and asked for a copy of LTBB’s new statute. McNamara believes it’s just a matter of time before changes will occur at the state level as well. Michigan prohibits same-sex marriages under an amendment to the state constitution passed by voters in 2004 and does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Newlywed Tim LaCroix said, “When the day came we seized the moment and we are extremely happy about it. I can’t say enough about our tribe doing that for us.” LaCroix’s proud husband, Barfield, said, “That [the tribe] created this opportunity is incredibly important in so many ways—even in today’s day and age when there are gay people on TV, in Congress and LGBT people all over the place—it is still incredibly important for communities to stand up and act on equality. Every time a signal like this gets sent, the door is pushed open a little wider and there is more room for people to live their lives.”
Denise Petoskey is the human resources director for the LTBB and was one of two women who pushed for the resolution to be brought back to the council for a vote. She believes the new law is “representative of our traditional values of respect, love and honesty. Even if people don’t totally understand it, I think they accept that it is a matter of individual choice.”
Barfield said as far as he and LaCroix are concerned they are legally married. “The tribe is sovereign and this is a duly passed law and we happened to be lucky enough to be first in line,” he said. “When you think about the institution of marriage itself having such a difficult time, I can’t help but think that all these other people who are trying to buy into that institution can’t help but strengthen it. We are not trying to break marriage; we are a part of marriage now. We want marriage to be a good thing for everybody.
“I wish people would tread lightly in each other’s lives.”