All posts by hamarchandnazzaro

Sterilization of Native American Women

The United States government forcibly sterilized thousands of Native American women without their consent or, in some cases, knowledge. An independent study found that one in four Native women were sterilized without having consented, and according to another source, 25 to 50 “percent of Native American women were sterilized between 1970 and 1976” (PBS). Coerced sterilization was “used as a means of controlling “undesirable” populations” and thus was not a practice performed solely on Indigenous peoples (PBS). Other groups that were targeted were poor people, unmarried mothers, people of color, the mentally ill, immigrants, and the disabled. Similarly, women were not the only ones who were forcibly sterilized, men and in some cases children, were subjected to this cruelty as well. Throughout the 20th century, federally-funded sterilization programs were in place in 32 states. California led with the most forced sterilizations, a third of the total number, inspiring the Nazis with their eugenics program.
What is surprising is that, in this case, the government eventually did admit to their wrongdoing, and according to a government website, 3,406 Native American Women were sterilized without their permission between 1973 and 1976 alone. However, keeping the source in mind, I would tend to think that this number is a conservative one, especially considering the country’s history of not recognizing the atrocities that it commits.

Doctors played an important role in the forced sterilizations, clearly breaking their oath to “do no harm”.

Between 1997 and 2010, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting, about 250 female inmates were sterilized in California prisons without state approval. A doctor who performed these procedures claimed that the cost of the procedures was minimal “compared to what” would be spent on “welfare paying for these unwanted children” (Indian Country). The $147,460 that were spent on these tubal ligations came from the state. I believe that if Californians knew that their states resources were going to this cause, they might not be supportive of it.

The law that is supposed to treat everyone equally and provide justice made this all possible.

Some of these programs occurred extremely recently and/or were very widespread. There is an extremely troubling history in the United States when it comes to this topic, that very few people know about. Disturbingly, these programs were sanctioned by the government and were made into law. The really disturbing part, however, is that many of these decisions have not been overturned. In some cases, the implications of this fact could be shocking and detrimental to the health of many.



Strapped Down & Sedated: Female Inmates Illegally Sterilized in CA


The 1890 Massacre at Wounded Knee

The Lakota were in desperate need of hope at the end of the 1800s; food and land were becoming increasingly scarce. A Paiute holy man named Wovoka had a vision in which the buffalo returned and the whites disappeared, leaving the Sioux free to live peacefully as they once had. The way that this world would come about, he said, was by the return to traditional ways and the practice of the Ghost Dance.

The U.S. government saw the Ghost Dance as a threat to their underlying goals of assimilation and extermination because of the unison that it represented among the Sioux. This led to the sending of troops to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and the eventual occurrence of what is now known as the Wounded Knee Massacre, but what was once referred to as a battle by the U.S. It began with a gunshot of unknown origin that led the soldiers to commence firing on the encampment and resulted in the death of at least 150 Native men, women, and children and about 30 soldiers.

A lifeless Chief Big Foot (Spotted Elk) after the massacre

After the killing was done, Ghost Dance shirts, as well as other possessions, were stolen off the bodies and sold to museums and collectors. The repatriation of these stolen objects has been advocated for by the Wounded Knee Survivors Association who have had some success. Among the items that have been repatriated were locks of hair supposedly from Chief Big Foot that were at a library in Barre, Massachusetts and a Ghost Dance shirt that was given to the Kelingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland by a member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in 1892. The shirt, which has enormous cultural significance because it was believed to have protective powers and was implemented in the Ghost Dance religion, returned home in 1999 after over a century of being overseas. Regarding its return, Marcella LeBeau of the Two Kettle Band/Cheyenne River Sioux said, “This will bring about a sense of closure to a sad and horrible event. Now healing can begin.”

The repatriated Ghost Shirt


Further reading on the:


The Truth About the Wounded Knee Massacre

Ghost shirt:

Wounded Knee: Healing the Wounds of the Past

Ghost Dance: