(Prepare For Change) In the 1970s, over 40 percent of Native women were sterilized either without their knowledge or using coercion.
By Kelly Hayes,
was 12 years old when I first heard about the forced sterilization of my people. A close friend of my family — the kind of person you call “auntie,” even though you’re not related — who was Menominee, like me, told me and my sister that she worried about Native girls who were registered tribal members. Even though we didn’t live on a reservation, our “auntie” feared the reach of the government and the violence it had so often disguised as “health care.” She came of age during the 1970s, at the height of the government’s forced sterilizations of Native women. Close friends of hers had been sterilized without their knowledge. I was too young to fully understand the trauma she carried, knowing that such violence had been perpetrated against people she loved, and knowing that any Native person, like her, who was capable of giving birth, was under threat. Looking back, I understand why she remained frightened, in spite of public health victories that had caused forced sterilizations to ebb in the U.S., and in spite of the fact that we didn’t receive our medical care through the Indian Health Service. My “auntie” had lived through a massive genocidal onslaught. Her sense of dread was permanent. →