Native American studies program head wins honor for legal guide for tribes

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Se-ah-dom Edmo won Basic Rights Oregons 2013 Fighting Spirit Award.The leader of a Native American studies program housed at Lewis & Clark College was honored with an award that Gov. John Kitzhaber received last year.

Se-ah-dom Edmo, coordinator of Lewis & Clark’s Indigenous Ways of Knowing Program, on Friday accepted Basic Rights Oregon’s 2013 Fighting Spirit Award during a ceremony in the Portland Art Museum. Kitzhaber and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales were in attendance.

“I was very touched and honored that they would think of me after having just awarded the governor,” Edmo said.

An announcement from Basic Rights Oregon, a nonprofit lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization, said Edmo earned the distinction for her work linking the racial justice movement with the movement to advance equality for LGBT people.

She spearheaded the creation of the Tribal Equity Toolkit: Tribal Resolutions and Codes to Support Two Spirit & LGBT Justice in Indian Country. The toolkit details ways tribes can change their laws to be more inclusive of LGBT people and people who identify as Two Spirit.

Two Spirit is a term for people who in Native American culture historically had mixed-gender roles. Many people view themselves as Two Spirit today for reasons including possessing feminine and masculine qualities.

Colonization altered the Native American view of Two Spirit people, she said. Many tribe members may not have the right to marry and may leave reservations or communities because they do not feel as if they fit in, said Edmo, also the Oregon Indian Education Association’s executive board vice president.

“LGBT justice in Indian country is definitely a part of de-colonization,” said Edmo, 37, a Happy Valley resident.

Edmo traces her inspiration for the toolkit to her parents, who took in a gay relative from the Yakama Indian Reservation whose mother had kicked him out of the house. Edmo said over the years she saw a lack of LGBT acceptance push many people out of their tribal or reservation communities.

“I was noticing people weren’t coming back, and I was thinking: What is it about our tribal communities that makes them not safe places?” said Edmo, whose tribal affiliation is Shoshone-Bannock, Nez Perce and Yakama.

Then, in 2009, the Coquille Tribe’s legalization of same-sex marriage went into effect, and Edmo realized she could make it easier for more tribal communities to similarly revise legislation.

Edmo’s toolkit has been distributed to more than 20 tribes. To create the project, she brought together experts from the Native American Program of Legal Aid Services of Oregon, BRO, Western States Center and Pride Foundation. Edmo now is updating the toolkit, adding sections on protecting kids from bullying and developing transgender-inclusive health care.

Michele Pinkham, a Two Spirit, said she has worked with Edmo on a BRO video project and has “never met a more devoted ally.”

“Se-ah-dom’s desire to gain support and equality for the Two Spirit community has been inspiring,” Pinkham said. “I am grateful for her work, courage and dedication to bring to light the plight of the Two Spirits in hopes they can reclaim their place in society.”

Standing by Edmo’s side while she accepted the award were two of her family friends, longtime couple Phillip Hillaire and Paul Lumley, who’ve known her since she was a child.

“She’s got a fire and energy in her that I just love,” Lumley said. “She’s just so passionate about correcting the wrongs in Indian country.”

Edmo definitely deserved the award, he said.

“She’s done more than anyone in Indian country to spread the word about being more inclusive,” said Lumley, who is Native American. “She believes that if the tribes can lead this effort, they can bring the rest of the country along because the tribes were on this land first, and if it is good enough for Indian country, it’s good enough for the rest of society.”

Edmo’s father is award-winning playwright and poet Ed Edmo, who said he is proud of his daughter’s efforts to pursue Two Spirit justice and her work encouraging people to abandon mascots with Native American caricatures.

“She gets a cause, and she takes it to the end,” Ed Edmo said.

Editor’s note: Reporter Jillian Daley attended college with Se-ah-dom Edmo.

Jillian Daley can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 109. Follow her on Twitter, @jilliandaley.

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