Monday, March 14, 2011

Federal Policy & Forced Sterilizations (1972-1976)

U.S. federal policy toward the Indian tribes was made without knowledge or consideration of the values of the Native people themselves. In addition, educational curricula (school books and lesson plans) and teaching came from a Eurocentric-White perspective and completely neglected any mention of tribal ways of life.

American Indians, especially those who live on reservations, are among the poorest groups in the country. In 1999, 26 percent of the American Indian/Alaska Native population lived below the official poverty level, compared with 12 percent of the total population. Factors such as geographic isolation, limited opportunities for upward mobility in rural areas and on reservations, and low labor force participation rates contribute to a continuous poverty cycle among American Indians. This poverty is often accompanied by a range of social problems —injuries and violence, depression, substance abuse, inadequate health care and prenatal health care, unhealthy or insufficient diets, and high rates of diabetes — that can greatly affect the ability and desire to pursue education. 
[Path of Many Journeys, www.aihec.org/resources/documents/ThePathOfManyJourneys.pdf]

Here is an excerpt from a report
A History of Governmentally Coerced Sterilization: The Plight of the Native American Woman, published on May 1, 1997 by Michael Sullivan DeFine, University of Maine School of Law:


The United States General Accounting Office Investigation of the Indian Health Service (IHS) Procedures and the Meaning behind Statistics of Population Growth:

Complaints of these unethical sterilization practices continued, but little was done until the matter was brought to the attention of Senator James Abourezk (D-SD). Finally, affirmative steps were taken - specifically the commissioning of the General Accounting Office - to investigate the affair and to determine if the complaints of Indian women were true - that they were undergoing sterilization as a means of birth control, without consent. The problem with the investigation was that it was initially limited to only four area Indian Health Service hospitals (later twelve); therefore, the total number of Indian women sterilized remains unknown.

The General Accounting Office came up with a figure of 3,400 women who had been sterilized; but others speculate that at least that many had been sterilized each year from 1972 through 1976.

The General Accounting Office confined its investigation to Indian Health Service records and failed to probe case histories, to observe patient-doctor relationships, or to interview women who had been sterilized. This deplorable lack of thorough investigation only served as an attempt to placate the concerns of Indian people.

The General Accounting Office investigators concluded that Indian Health Service consent procedures lacked the basic elements of informed consent, particularly in informing a patient orally of the advantages and disadvantages of sterilization. Furthermore, the consent form had only a summary of the oral presentation, and the form lacked the information usually located at the top of the page notifying the patient that no federal benefits would be taken away if she did not accept sterilization. The General Accounting Office notified the Indian Health Service that it should implement better consent procedures. Some Indian Health Service Area Directors were pressured by local Indians and by Indian physicians and staff to suspend certain nurses and to move the hospital administrators to another post. Other than that, however, there was little else done by government officials.

Outraged by the level of governmental inaction, Indian people accused the Indian Health Service of making genocide a part of its policy. For the Indian Health Service, this was a serious accusation, as the purpose of this agency was to somehow alleviate the terrible health conditions in Indian communities. The Indian Health Service defended itself by relying on the inaccurate sterilization figures provided by the General Accounting Office. In reality, however, the accusation of genocide was not far off base.

As Thomas Littlewood stated in his book on the politics of population control, “non-white Americans are not unaware of how the American Indian came to be called the vanishing American . . . [t]his country’s starkest example of genocide in practice.”

From a statistical point of view, the reality of the devastation of Native American women victimized by sterilization can be observed through the comments of Senator Abourezk himself: “given the small American Indian population, the 3,400 Indian sterilization figure [out of 55,000 Indian women of childbearing age] would be compared to sterilizing 452,000 non-Indian women.”

Conclusion: Science has provided a means of categorizing and victimizing those in society deemed unworthy of continued existence. Its influence in academic and political circles has created a pervasive social bigotry that rewards extermination over reform. The failure to embrace the racial and cultural diversity of this country has left a wake of destruction and oppression in minority populations. It is time for the pundits of social change to rearrange their thinking and give back to the people the power to choose what is right for themselves.

[from my archives and research...Trace]

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Mila @yoonsblur: What can non-adopted people do to help adoptees feel respected in our spaces? Remember that they are guests. Remember that they are visitors. Remember that they will NEVER know what it's like to live an adopted life. Remember that they are visiting our home, our land, our territory. And hence, they need to act and behave accordingly. I like to use the analogy of a heart transplant patient. A heart transplant patient is the only one who knows what it is like to undergo transplantation. They are the only ones who know how it feels to be a transplant patient. The doctors, nurses, family members, etc. do not know what it is like to live life as a transplant patient and none of them would insist that they know what it feels like. They can help take care of the patient, they may even have valuable knowledge that may be applicable, but they still have no clue what it's like to live life as a transplant patient. Even the doctors and nurses can only help if they listen to the patient. Assumptions are dangerous and could even lead to death. Hence, knowledge is never equivalent to experience. A White person who has a Ph.D in African American studies will never know what it's like to live life as an African American. That Ph.D does not make the White person an "expert" on being African American. Similarly, unless you are an adoptee--no matter how many books you've read, no matter how many adopted children you've raised--you will NEVER know what it's like to be an adoptee. So, respect that. Sit down. Listen. Acknowledge. Validate. Do not presume. Do not dismiss. Do not negate. Do not pit adoptees against each other by saying, "Well, I know this one adoptee who..." Turn your mouth off and your ears on. That's what non-adopted folks can do if they truly want to understand and respect adoptees in our spaces.
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