The sterilization of Native women

From “Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future” by Patty Krawec – Broadleaf Books

The sterilization of Native women in the United States and Canada goes back to the early twentieth century, when concerns about population control combined with eugenics. Policies began to target women who were seen to be defective: generally those who were Black, Indigenous, chronically poor, or deemed mentally unfit. GIven how frequently it is Black and Indigenous women who are also chronically poor or deemed mentally unfit, this, too, amounts to genocide. Laws that permitted sterilization without consent remained on the books until the 1970s.  

In Canada, a class-action lawsuit alleges that this practice continued until 2018. In the fall of 2020, a whistleblower alleged that migrant women, many of whom are indigenous to Central America, were being sterilized without their knowledge or consent in an ICE detention center in Georgia. In her book Reproductive Justice, white academic and activist Barbara Gurr describes the legal and social history of this, as well as contemporary medical practices and funding structures that effectively continue this practice. She notes that “between 1968 and 1982, 42 percent of Native women of childbearing age were sterilized compared with 15 percent of white women.” On some reserves, up to 80 percent of women were sterilized. Gurr is not suggesting that all of these sterilizations were coerced. But as with all disparities, we need to think about why it exists. What options are, or are not, made available?