Abhorrent white behavior, an American history.

Posted: March 29, 2012 by chelsiehinck in Uncategorized

Ever relevant today in the spotlight of recent political debates is the issue of birth control.  What is left out of this conversation altogether is the horrific historical record of the United States performing sterilizations on women without their consent. A majority of these sterilizations were performed on women that identified within minority groups inside of the United States. For the focus of this blog post, the forced sterilization of Native American women will be explored.

To begin, I just need to say that this is another example of absolutely appalling behavior that is a direct result of white patriarchal society. It’s a ridiculously disgusting abuse of human rights.

To put a date on the sterilization of Native American women is a somewhat difficult task. With the colonization of America and the invasion of “white man” the oppression of Native Americans as a whole began. The forced sterilization of Native American women as a “campaign” began in 1970 through the “fully federally funded sterilization campaign” by Indian Health Services (IHS).  Information on the Indian Health Services can be found on the Internet here, and in summation is the U.S. Federal Governments way of providing health care for Native American people either for free or for minimal cost (according to the website). This is the only source many Native Americans have for their health care needs because traditional treatments were no longer an option after the forced relocation of many tribes. When the only option is health care from IHS, women seeking reproductive services were left with limited options.

Forced sterilization may seem like a tough term to understand, and Myla Carpio sums up a majority of the instances that were common among Native American women populations:

 American Indian women are susceptible to uninformed or involuntary sterilizations because of the different ways in which doctors or health care professionals present hysterectomies and tubal ligations. Some women reported that questionable delivery room diagnoses led to their sterilizations. IHS doctors used consent forms for medically required sterilization procedures rather than forms that distinguished voluntary sterilizations from required ones. Other women were told outright lies about their conditions and treatments (Carpio).

The reasoning behind such sterilizations is covered extensively in Andrea Smith’s book Conquest, which is available for purchase here. This book is an extensive look into the sexual violence and American Indian genocide. In chapter four of this book, titled: “Better Dead Than Pregnant” The Colonization of Native Women’s Reproductive Health, Smith cites many “justifications” used for the practice of sterilization of groups of people. The main point being that the potential for furthering the “continuance of the people” through childbirth becomes threatening to white dominated governments looking to control the population in their favor.

According to a report surveying 12 areas of the IHS’s sterilizations 5 percent of all Native women were sterilized between1973 and 1976 (Smith), and some reports state that around 42% of women of childbearing age of Native American origin were sterilized, leaving the number of Native American women that were sterilized as a part of the IHS sterilization campaign difficult to pin point exactly.

Most women were sterilized with no prior knowledge or consent to the procedure.

Barbara Moore, a Lakota, conveyed her experience:

I was pregnant myself and I went to a public health service to deliver my baby. For one reason or another, I was not able to deliver it in a normal way. They delivered my child by caesarian [sic], that is all l remember. When I woke up the next day after the operation I was told that my child was born dead…. Besides this, they told me that I could not have any more children because they have had to sterilize me…. I was sterilized without my knowledge or without my agreement (Carpio).

Barbara, like many other Native American Women, was not given any consent form to sign releasing the hospital to conduct further procedures without her awareness. She was left childless and unable to have further children due to a forced sterilization. From her statement, it doesn’t even seem as if the doctors gave her relevant information about what went wrong during child birth perhaps lending to the fact that the IHS was acting under governmental orders to basically perform mass genocide of the Native American population.

The discovery that the Federal Government had issued this “sterilization campaign” came from a doctor inside of the IHS, Dr. Uri, Choctaw and Cherokee, discovering that women as young as 20 had received complete hysterectomies.

At first I thought I had discovered a case of malpractice… There was no good reason for a doctor to perform a complete hysterectomy rather than a tubal ligation on a 20-year-old healthy woman. I began accusing the government of genocide and insisted on a congressional investigation (Carpio).

The desecration of land and the forced relocation of Native American populations across the country apparently wasn’t enough to appease the United States government. When boarding schools weren’t enough it seemed that they took a more direct approach in attempting to perform a mass genocide by halting the reproduction and therefore birth of further Native American children. It’s absolutely abhorrent that less than 40 years ago this country allowed the Federal government–and then President George H. W. Bush to conduct themselves in such a manner.

An important lesson to take away from this terrible situation would be to focus on what is happening inside of the health care system we are currently living in. Access to affordable health care has become increasingly difficult in this country and due to our patriarchal white dominated society the groups that suffer the most are women of minorities. By limiting health care as a privilege only afforded to *some* in our society are we not still promoting the same ideals that led to the forced sterilization of Native American women?


Carpio, Myla Vicenti. “The lost generation: American Indian women and sterilization abuse.” Social Justice31.4 (2004): 40+. General OneFile. Web. 28 Mar. 2012.

Smith, Andrea. Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. Cambridge, MA: South End, 2005. Print.


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