Ontario scholar explores the history of forced sterilization of Indigenous women
(ANNews) – An academic at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., Has been researching the forced sterilization of Indigenous women for more than a decade.
Karen Stote, who teaches gender and women’s studies, told Alberta Native News that her interest in the subject dates back to her undergraduate years earlier this year, when her Indigenous peers and teachers told her about eugenics practiced against indigenous women in their communities.
“I went to get something to read on the matter and there was nothing tangible to read,” Stote said.
Historically, over 1,200 Indigenous people have been forced to lose their reproductive capacity, the vast majority of whom were women, in Indian hospitals across Canada, including Camsell Hospital in Edmonton.
Stote published a book in 2015, titled An Act of Genocide: Colonialism and the Sterilization of Aboriginal Women, which was based on her doctoral research.
“We already know that Alberta and British Columbia had eugenic legislation in place and that in Alberta aboriginal people were being disproportionately targeted,” Stote said.
Indigenous people made up three percent of Alberta’s population, but by the time eugenics legislation was repealed in the 1970s, 25 percent of its victims were Indigenous, she said.
But sterilization continued after the eugenics program ended, with the rationale shifting from discredited racial inferiority to birth control, which was legalized in 1969.
“It made the problem something between the doctor and his patient,” Stote said. “For indigenous peoples, interaction with Western medicine was used as a tool of colonialism. There is a fundamentally coercive power dynamic there.
Stote said research on the topic had revealed “ongoing problems with informed consent” among sterilized women, who were forced to do so by health officials, often in a language they did not speak.
She is working on a new book based on the testimonies of 100 Indigenous women – including 60 in Saskatchewan – who shared their experiences of forced sterilization from the 1970s to 2018.
“When you examine these documents, there is a constant tendency to view the reproduction of Indigenous women as problematic,” Stote said, noting how many Indigenous people who left their reserves because of poverty found themselves in the same conditions in towns.
“There is a tendency over there to view aboriginal peoples and poor women as a drain on provincial budgets. ”
Sterilization is just one of many forms of violence used by settler society against indigenous women, she added.
“There are links between the violence that Indigenous women experience on their bodies and the violence that is committed against Indigenous lands,” said Stote. “Non-Indigenous people have a responsibility to play to end this violence. ”