Gays: Tribe ignoring tradition

Gays: Tribe ignoring tradition

Source: Gallup Independent Diné Bureau
By Pamela G. Dempsey

WINDOW ROCK — Collestipher Chatto thumbs through a stack of paintings he did inside an art room at Ramah Navajo School, looking for one in particular.

The high-school senior won first place for his piece, “Outlook of freaks, queers, and witches,” from El Morro Arts Council last year.

Chatto’s creativity goes beyond canvas.

During the past few years, Chatto has written the school plays performed by his fellow students as well as turned blank canvases into colorful expressions of his homosexuality and new-found religion.

Chatto seems confident in who he is today a young Navajo gay man with plans to study fashion design in San Francisco after graduation.

But the journey wasn’t so easy.

Two years ago, at the age of 15, Chatto told his parents he was gay, a fact that was difficult for them to accept.

“My parents were hesitant about it,” he said; however, his friends, weren’t.

“It was no big thing, no big deal (for them),” he said.

But in the small Navajo community of Pine Hill a place described by Chatto and his friends as predominantly Christian the acceptance isn’t so easy.

“There’s bigotry around here ever since I can remember,” Chatto said. “Everywhere I go, I get called something.”

Bigger cities, Chatto feels, have more tolerance.

“Homosexuality is new (here),” he said.

Five years ago, Chatto was introduced to Wicca “an earth-oriented religion that uses the energies of Mother Nature for a better life through magic and prayer,” he said.

After that, he said, his life “changed for the better.”

He began studying and researching homosexuality.

What he found, Chatto said, was that gay people were accepted and respected in ancient society. His friends tell him that the same was true in Navajo culture.

But Chatto said these traditions are now overshadowed by Western beliefs.

He hopes to come back one day to his community and change that.

He wants to get married and have kids.

To Chatto, though, the Navajo Nation Council’s passage of the Dine’ Marriage Act last spring only strengthens his belief that the tribe is copying Western practices.

The intent, said sponsors, was to strengthen the Navajo family.

The act prohibits marriage between gays and relatives. Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. vetoed the act, only to have it overruled.

“(There’s a) need for gay people to be equal and to have the same rights,” Chatto said.

Not everyone agrees.

Albert Deschine, a former chapter president, was quoted recently in an alternative paper, The Phoenix New Times, saying that the concept of gay people in Navajo culture is grossly misunderstood.

He is further quoted making disparaging remarks and what is taken by the Native gay community as hate comments.

The article, “The Crying Game“, which ran Dec. 22, explores the lives of transgender Native Americans today.

In response, Deschine said his comments were misconstrued.

“I don’t hate anyone; however, I don’t condone what some people do,” he said. “For example, I don’t condone a rapist for his act, and I don’t condone a thief or burglar or what I feel is not a wholesome life. … I have nothing against people .”

He said in an interview on Friday that Navajo traditions do not condone the homosexual lifestyle as part of a long list of do’s and don’t’s don’t touch your brother, don’t touch your sister, no man to man, or women to women.

“How we interact with religion, with family, and with neighbors … (it’s) under an umbrella called k,” Deschine said. “Lately I find that k needs to be defined.”

Deschine feels that the Native American people will lose their culture and identity if traditions are not taught correctly in the home.

His comments, he said, were an expression of outrage and frustration.

Many people, he said, express outrage and frustration about “things that happen in their community.”

“I feel like I’ve been silent too long,” Deschine said. “I may have strong beliefs and my story may have offended people, but that’s me.”

Tomasina Grey, a gay women living in Albuquerque, is calling for a public apology from Deschine to the Native lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community.

“If anything,” she said of Deschine’s comments, “it set us back 100 years.”

She felt his comments were racist.

“We don’t need any more ignorance … we need to become more allies rather than rivals.”

Source: Gallup Independent
“Crying Game” Article: