A 'monumental first' for the Oglala Sioux
Mary Annette Pember
Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today
Ruben Gonzales, vice president of the Victory Fund, described Alicia Mousseau’s election to the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s office of vice president as a “monumental first.”
Mousseau, elected on Nov. 3, is believed to be the first publicly LGBTQ candidate to win a seat on the tribe’s executive council.
The Victory Fund is an organization that provides funding and support for LGBTQ candidates running for political office.
Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and the first openly LGBTQ congressional member elected from Kansas, is also supported by the Victory Fund.
In her interview with Indian Country Today, however, Mousseau seemed to take the “monumental first” element of her election in stride, preferring instead to discuss her hopes and goals as a leader.
“I didn’t want to make my sexual identity a defining part of my platform necessarily; I just wanted to be transparent with people,” she said.
Mousseau’s campaign slogan was “Together we can.”
“Together we can build a research and training center, create healing informed communities, highlight the helpers, embody hope, identify solutions and be our ancestor’s wildest dreams.”
Mousseau earned her doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Wyoming and has been working on the staff of the National Native Children’s Trauma Center at the University of Montana’s College of Education in Missoula.
The center provides training and technical assistance in trauma-informed practices across all tribal child-serving systems, according to its website.
During her tenure, Mousseau hopes the tribe can create a research and training center focused on science, technology, engineering, arts and math that will help generate trauma-informed healing programs and focus on creating solutions to community problems.
A tribally based research center would also provide a community landing place for members who leave the reservation to earn degrees.
According to Mousseau, tribal citizens best understand community needs, history and ways of knowing.
“If we don’t serve our community, who will? We’ve learned we have to do it ourselves. We have to go to college, come back and figure out how to best serve our community,” she said.
Born and raised in the town of Porcupine on the Pine Ridge reservation, Mousseau said she always hoped to return.
“There’s no place like Pine Ridge; my whole family is here. I can go up and down the creek and see relatives. I can stop into my auntie’s house for dinner, pre-COVID that is,” she said.
“Our communities are so close.”
In 2019 Oglala Sioux tribal leaders passed laws recognizing same sex marriage as well as a hate crime ordinance protecting its LGBTQ members.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe appears to be the first tribe to pass such an ordinance.
Like many communities, Pine Ridge struggled with passing the laws. After a contentious two-day council meeting, the hate crime law passed but was later challenged.
Tribal council members presented a resolution to rescind the law; the resolution was narrowly defeated as then-President Julian Bear Runner cast the deciding vote.
Bear Runner later announced on his Facebook page that he is gay.
Asked if she’s encountered any negativity related to her sexual orientation, Mousseau said: “People pretty much already knew; I don’t think it was a big thing.”
She was pleasantly surprised, however, about the direct and open questions she’s received from younger citizens.
“The youth ask questions; clearly this issue is important to them,” Mousseau said.
“It was just amazing that they are the ones who are willing to talk openly about sexual identity.”
According to LGBTQ advocate Darin Janis, Lakota, Mousseau’s election demonstrates that LGBTQ people can be strong, effective leaders.
“Many of us have been told that LGBTQ people don’t belong at the forefront. I’m certain that at one time or another she has fought the triple oppression of being born female, Native American and lesbian,” Janis said.
“But Dr. Mousseau has turned that triple oppression on its head and made it into a triple opportunity, not just for her but for the entire reservation.”
Janis noted a high suicide rate, especially among youth on the reservation, reflects the anguish and lack of acceptance they often experience.
According to the research by the Trevor Project, Native American and Alaska Native LGBTQ youth are 2.5 times more likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year compared with non-Native youth.
Janis, who identifies as Two Spirit and Indigiqueer, has worked as coordinator of Two Spirit Circle, a program focusing on preventing suicide among LGBTQ youth on the Pine Ridge reservation.
“It’s often difficult for Native folks to talk about sexual identity. I think that comes from the colonial teachings that were brought in to our people,” he said.
“This offers us a time to reconnect and heal. We need to revitalize that traditional Lakota Two Spirit role in our society."
The tribe has many challenges ahead, including keeping citizens safe during the pandemic, according to Mousseau.
“We are a strong nation; together we can adapt and move forward.”
Mary Annette Pember, a citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today.
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