sterilization – native american women
According to the General Accounting Office’s (GAO) study of four of the twelve Indian Health Services regions, 3,406 Native American women were sterilized between 1973-1976.(CCESA 1977; Johansen 1998)
The same GAO study also found that many of the consent forms pertaining to the sterilization procedures were illegal and not in compliance with Indian Health Service regulations. For instance, 36 women under the age of 21 had been sterilized, despite the court ordered moratorium on sterilizations of women under the age of 21. [Comptroller General of the United States. 1976 (Letter and report to Senator James Abourezk): Nov. 4. (B-164031) (5).](CCESA 1977)
Dr. Connie Pinkerton-Uri’s investigation of sterilization among Native American women found that nearly 1 in 4 (or 25 percent) of American Indian women had been sterilized. Her research indicated that Indian Health Services (IHS) facilities “…singled out full-blooded Indian women for sterilization procedures.” (The GAO study was actually produced in order to refute Dr. Pinkerton-Uri’s findings however their findings proved consistent with hers) (Lawrence 2000)
Elsewhere, Dr. Pinkerton-Uri reported that, “[a]ll the pureblood women of the Kaw tribe of Oklahoma have now been sterilized. At the end of the generation the tribe will cease to exist.” (Roberts 1997:95)
According to Lehman Brightman, a Lakota scholar who has studied the issue – an estimated that 40% of Native American women and 10% of Native American men were sterilized during the 1970s. By these estimates the total number of Native American women sterilized is between 60,000-70,000. (Johansen 1998)
WARN (Women of All Red Nations) and other women’s organizations worked to raise awareness of the sterilization abuses committed against Native American women, and in particular the manipulations and and deceptions involved in generating “consent” for sterilization procedures. In many cases information was not offered in the women’s language, in others “consent” for sterilization was given by women who had been told that they would die or lose their welfare benefits if they had more children. At least two fifteen-year-old girls awoke from what they believed to be surgeries removing their tonsils removed to find that their had their ovaries had been excised instead. In 1970 a twenty-six year old Native American woman who had been having difficulties getting pregnant sought the help of Dr. Connie Pinkerton-Uri, a Native American physician practicing in Los Angeles to perform a “womb transplant” – only to learn that she had been given a complete hysterectomy (removal of the ovaries) under the false pretense that the surgery was reversible. Such abuses must also be considered in the context of the particular relationship between Native American populations and the US government responsible for funding the vast majority of these sterilizations. Native American women’s vulnerability to the coercion and violence of sterilization abuse was enhanced by the operation of the IHS and the historical antipathy of the US federal government to the interests and well-being of Native American populations.(Johansen 1998)
Norma Jean Serena
Norma Jean Serena, a Native American woman living in Apollo, Pennsylvania with her 3 children was a victim of sterilization abuse in 1970. Though Ms. Serena does not recall having signed the mandatory consent form (nor was one ever provided by the hospital at trial), the attending physician stated that he had explained the operation and felt convinced that she understood him. This highly questionable “consent” was given by Ms. Serena the day after welfare case workers removed her children from the home under pretenses that were later determined by a jury to be false. This “consent” was given after days of being unfairly disparaged as an unfit and neglectful mother by case workers. At trial Ms Serena was assisted by the Council of Three Rivers Indian Center in Pittsburgh in suing Armstrong County for the return of her children from foster care. She was awarded $17,000 damages for the removal of her children,who were ordered to be returned to her custody. It has since come to light that there was no actual medical basis for the sterilization procedures. An excerpt from Ms. Serena’s “Statement of Need for Therapeutic Sterilization” in the hospital file reads “We find from observation and examination of Norma Serena that she is suffering from the following ailment of condition”…’socio-economic reasons’… and that another pregnancy in our opinion, would be inadvisable. Therefore, we are of the opinion that it is medically necessary to perform the sterilization.” After being disparaged as a mother, and in the midst of the enormous stress of losing her children to the welfare system, Ms. Serena was encouraged to undergo sterilization for what she thought were medical reasons. Only years later did she discover that she had actually been sterilized because she was poor.
Chicago Committee to End Sterilization Abuse (CCESA). 1977. “Sterilization Abuse: A Task for the Women’s Movement”(January-1977). Available online:<http://www.cwluherstory.org/CWLUArchive/cesa.html> Accessed: November 20, 2007.
Johansen, Bruce E. 1998. “Sterilization of Native American Women Reviewed by Omaha Master’s Student.” Native Americas (September, 1998). available online accessed on November 21, 2007.
Lawrence, Jane. 2000. “The Indian Health Service and the Sterilization of Native American Women.” The American Indian Quarterly 24.3 (2000) 400-419. Available online: <http://muse.jhu.edu/demo/american_indian_quarterly/v024/24.3lawrence.html> Accessed on: November 24, 2007.
Roberts, Dorothy. 1997. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. New York: Pantheon Books.
~ by Serena on November 20, 2007.