"A 1970 Law Led to the Mass Sterilization of Native American Women. That History Still Matters
BY BRIANNA THEOBALD
UPDATED: NOVEMBER 28, 2019 11:47 AM ET | ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: NOVEMBER 27, 2019
Marie Sanchez, chief tribal judge on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, arrived in Geneva in 1977 with a clear message to deliver to the United Nations Convention on Indigenous Rights. American Indian women, she argued, were targets of the “modern form” of genocide—sterilization
Over the six-year period that had followed the passage of the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act of 1970, physicians sterilized perhaps 25% of Native American women of childbearing age, and there is evidence suggesting that the numbers were actually even higher. Some of these procedures were performed under pressure or duress, or without the women’s knowledge or understanding. The law subsidized sterilizations for patients who received their health care through the Indian Health Service and for Medicaid patients, and black and Latina women were also targets of coercive sterilization in these years.
But while Sanchez and the Native women with whom she organized responded to the results of that 1970 law, they also recognized that the fight against involuntary sterilization was one of many intertwined injustices rooted—as was their resistance—in a much longer history of U.S. colonialism. And that history continues to this day. "
"First Nations women forced to be sterilized before they could see newborns
Sixty Indigenous women are filing a class-action lawsuit alleging forced sterilizations over the past nearly three decades, According to a CBC radio report.
A large group of Indigenous women are seeking a class-action lawsuit for alleged forced sterilizations that took place over the past twenty-five years in Saskatchewan. The women are each claiming 7 million dollars in damages.
According to the report, the sterilizations occurred as early as 2017, and the women are alleging they were told the procedure was reversible according to Alisa Lombard, who works with Maurice Law, the first indigenous owned law firm in Canada.
The Current Transcript for November 13, 2018"
VOICE: I'm laying there, scared enough, not wanting this done. Been telling her I didn't want it done. Then all of a sudden, I smelled something burning. If I could've moved my legs, I probably would have kicked her or something.
See also: Now There is a Film about Forced Sterilizations of Indigenous Women by Mary Annette Pember
The Forced Sterilizations of indigenous women were covert means of the continuation of extermination policy against Indian Nations. At least three indigenous generations from 3,406 women are not in existence now as the result. The sterilizations were not unintentional or negligible. They were genocide. What would the indigenous culture and political landscape be now? One can only imagine, but the sterilizations like the relocations - were forced.
First, the forced sterilizations must be seen in historical and modern context.
"Leonard Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes. “Crow Dog.” pp. 6-7. Only when we saw them building roads through our land, wagons at first, and then the railroad, when we watched them building forts, killing off all the game, committing buffalo genocide, and we saw them ripping up our Black Hills for gold, our sacred Paha Sapa, the home of the wakinyan, the thunderbirds, only then did we realize what they wanted was our land. Then we began to fight. For our earth. For our children. That started what the whites call the Great Indian Wars of the West. I call it the Great Indian Holocaust. "
"Maze Of Injustice - Amnesty International
Sexual violence against Indigenous women in the USA is widespread. According to US government statistics, Native American and Alaska Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the USA.
- snip -
According to the US Department of Justice, in at least 86 per cent of the reported cases of rape or sexual assault against American Indian and Alaska Native women, survivors report that the perpetrators are non-Native men.
Here’s a historical example of violence against Native American women during this general time, to complete laying the foundation. "
"Commemorating Anna Mae
AIM firrst came to South Dakota when a call was made for outside help get serious convictions against white men responsible for a racially motivated murder that took place in a Nebraska border town. A Lakota man had been publicly humiliated and later murdered by 2 white brothers.
- big snip -
When her body was discovered in February of 1976, law officials and FBI agents including David Price investigated the cause of her death. They cut off her hands for "fingerprint analysis", and despite the visible bullet hole in the back of her head, they determined her cause of death to be from frostbite. They quickly arranged for her to be buried as a Jane Doe. A second autopsy was ordered by the Wounded Knee Legal Offense Defense Committee, and Anna Mae's family, when her identity was revealed by the FBI. Her body was re-dug up, and an independent pathologist discovered a gaping bullet wound in the back of her head. It was easy for him to locate and remove the .32 calibre bullet lodged her head.
Anna Mae Aquash
The first autopsy, conducted by Pine Ridge Public Health Service, listed exposure as the cause of death. The hands of the unidentified corpse were cut off and sent to the FBI for identification. On March 3,1976, the fingerprints from the severed hands were identified by the FBI as those of Aquash. Her family obtained another autopsy, which was conducted by the same agency on March 10. That time investigators noted a .32-caliber bullet hole at the back of the skull, making clear that her death had been a homicide. "
The general historical foundation being laid, I ask what would the population of indigenous people be now, approximately three generations after the forced sterilizations?
According to the GAO report, 3406 Native American women between the ages of fifteen and forty-four were sterilized between 1973 and 1976.
Eugenics: The Scalpel and the Sword: The Sterilization Campaign Targeting Native Americans in the 1970s..
In the old days, genocide used to be so simple. Such things as biological warfare used to keep Indians warm with small pox infested blankets furnished by the United States government, and the only thing barren and infertile was the land set aside for reservations. In the 1970s, genocide became a little more complex. Biological warfare invaded the reproductive rights of Native American women, making their wombs as barren and infertile as reservation land. The sterilization policies during this time perpetuated the genocidal tendencies that have made the eugenics movement a viable legacy of terror in the biological history of Native Americans
Next, the specifics of who uncovered the forced sterilizations and why that conclusion was reached are vital. The dark moment of discovery came from a Choctaw- Cherokee physician named Connie Uri.
Kurt Kaltreider, PH.D. “American Indian Prophecies.” p. 71. A Choctaw-Cherokee physician, Connie Uri, uncovered this program (large-scale sterilization) when she was asked by a young Indian woman for a womb transplant.
The Indian Health Service and the Sterilization of Native American Women
Kurt Kaltreider, PH.D. “American Indian Prophecies.” p. 71. She (Connie Uri) scoured the records of the BIA-run Indian Health Service Hospital in Claremont, Oklahoma, and discovered that 75% of the sterilizations were nontherapeutic. Many of the women did not understand the true nature of the surgery, thought it was a kind of reversible birth control, or even signed the consent forms while groggy from sedation after childbirth.
A Look at the Indian Health Service Policy of Sterilization, 1972-1976 by Charles R. England The hospital records show that both tubal ligation and hysterectomies were used in sterilization. Dr. Uri commented: "In normal medical practice, hysterectomies are rare in women of child bearing age unless there is cancer or other medical problems" (Akwesasne Notes, 1974: 22). Besides the questionable surgery techniques being allowed to take place, there was also the charge of harassment in obtaining consent forms.
Kutr Kaltreider, PH.D. “American Indian Prophecies.” pp. 71-72. Following Dr. Uri’s lead, Senator James Abourezk initiated a federal investigation of the General Accounting office. The resulting report gave the results of a survey from four out of twelve regions with Indian Health Services hospitals. In a three-tear period, over 3,400 sterilizations were performed; 3,000 of them on Indian women under the age of 44. In not one instance were the women offered consent forms that met the federal guidelines and requirements. About 5% of Indian women were being sterilized -
www.jstor.org/...Various studies revealed that the Indian Health Service sterilized between 25 and 50 percent of Native American women between 1970 and 1976. Dr. Connie Pinkerton-Uri conducted a study that revealed that IHs physicians sterilized at least 25 percent of American Indian women between the ages of fifteen and forty-four. Cheyenne tribal judge Marie Sanchez questioned fifty Cheyenne women and discovered that IHS doctors had sterilized twenty-six of them. She announced her belief that the number of women the GAO reported sterilized was too low and that the percentage was much higher than 25 percent. Mary AnnBear Comes Out, a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, conducted a survey on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and Labre Mission grounds. She found that in a three-year period, the IHs sterilized fifty-six out of 165 women between the ages of thirty and forty-four in the survey area. She wrote that "the data indicate that the same rate of sterilizations would reduce births among this group by more than half over a five-year period." The sterilization of Indian women affected their families and friends; many marriages ended in divorce, and numerous friendships became estranged or dissolved completely. The women had to deal with higher rates of marital problems, alcoholism, drug abuse, psychological difficulties, shame, and guilt. Sterilization abuse affected the entire Indian community in the United States.31
What would the population of indigenous people be now? What would indigenous culture and political landscape be? I don’t know, but the sterilizations like the relocations – were forced.
Source "And...if ever we are constrained to lift the hatchet against any tribe, " he wrote, "we will never lay it down till that tribe is exterminated, or is driven beyond the Mississippi." Jefferson, the slave owner, continued, "in war, they will kill some of us; we shall destroy all of them". (Ibid)
(below link and article can not be found on internet any longer, but it was there years ago)
sterilizations in the 70's The following is a copy of an article by Joan Burnes which appeared in the Lakota Times last August 24th (1994). - snip - Emery A. Johnson, then-director of the IHS, told a congressional committee in 1975 that IHS "considered non-therapeutic sterilization a legitimate method of family planning... We are not aware of any instance in which such services have been abused."
To conclude, one day before his passing Carter Camp shared with us his direct experience with stopping Forced Sterilizations.
This is one of the issues I've worked on in my life that sincerly pissed me off. Dr. Connie Uri was a surgeon and AIM member who worked with us on several issues. In 1971 I organized Oklahoma AIM and we did organizing work around Claremore Indian Hospital in NE Oklahoma. In 1972 a group of Indian nurses there came to AIM and asked that we get involved in this case of forced sterilizations. We did and tried to help the nurses who knew what was going on but were fired when they asked questions. We kept running into walls and the nurses were being weeded out one by one. I should say IHS employees as some were not nurses but the nurses led them in this struggle. After some work it became obvious that we needed an expert on the inside so I called Connie and asked for her help. Connie came to Oklahoma and went to the hospital prentending she was going to move to Ok and was looking for work. Since she was a highly qualified surgeon and over qualified for the IHS they began to recruit her. In doing so they open their books to her to show her their workload etc. Connie spent a few days familiarizing herself with the place (and secretly copying the pertinent material) by the time she informed them she couldn't go to work there we had our evidence and Connie became our main witness! We won the cases and put a stop to the horrible bullshit going down. Along with the brave ndn nurses, Dr.Connie Uri was truly a hero in exposing one of the worst atrocities in IHS history.
Personally, I believe there were a lot more than 3,406. And the history never stopped repeating.
The recent news of a whistleblower’s allegations that a for-profit ICE detention center forced sterilization procedures on immigrant women shocked many people and drew comparisons to Nazi sterilization campaigns. The ICE detention story reflects a long pattern in the United States of the coerced sterilization of marginalized populations, particularly of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous peoples. In fact, the Nazi’s borrowed ideas for their sterilization regimen from eugenic sterilization laws adopted in the U.S. in the early 20th century.
Over the course of this long history, both public and private actors in the U.S. targeted the poor, the disabled, immigrants, and racial minorities for forced sterilization. Spurred by the eugenics movement popular at the turn of the century, states enacted laws beginning in 1907 that authorized the sterilization of the “feebleminded.” More than 60,000 coercive sterilizations were performed throughout the U.S. pursuant to these eugenics laws. In Buck v. Bell, the Supreme Court legitimized early 20th century eugenic sterilization practices with Oliver Wendell Holmes’ notorious declaration: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
Author is a member of the Metis Nation of the United States