Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
American Indian, American Indian Women, Sterilization, Reproductive Rights, American Indian Movement, Women of all Red Nations, Indian Health Service
This thesis explores the marginalization of American Indian women, specifically in mainstream media and social movements. From 1970 to 1980 it is estimated that at least 25% of indigenous women between the ages of 15 to 44 were sterilized, with some speculating the number to be as high as 50%. American Indian women were not the only targets of sterilization abuse; African American women and Latina women also had similar experiences. The public was more aware of these women’s experiences than those of American Indian women because the mainstream media was more likely to cover the involuntary procedures of women of color who initiated lawsuits, a strategy which very few American Indian chose to pursue.
The American Indian Movement (AIM) discovered the involuntary sterilization of American Indian women in records they removed after occupying the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 1972. It would take nearly two years for information on the sterilization of American Indian women to be made public in 1974 by the Akwesasne Notes, a newspaper published by the Mohawk Nation. Mainstream media, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, would take another two years to publish an article on the matter in 1976. Their articles appeared after the General Accounting Office (GAO) released a report investigating allegations against the IHS. The report revealed that 3,406 sterilization procedures were performed on American Indian females between the ages of 15 to 44 in the Aberdeen, Albuquerque, Oklahoma City, and Phoenix areas alone from 1973 to 1976.
American Indian women’s issues were clearly present but insufficiently recognized not only in news coverage, but also in the American Indian and feminist social movements’ agendas. American Indian women played an active role in AIM, but it was ultimately dominated by men, and thus didn’t focus on female concerns. Mainstream media diminished women’s roles in major AIM events, such as the Trail of Broken Treaties and siege at Wounded Knee. Hence the creation of Women of all Red Nations (WARN), which was intended to focus exclusively on American Indian women’s issues. American Indian women attended the 1975 World Congress for Women in Mexico City and the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston, but the conflicting views of white feminists and women of color on the matter of sterilization and abortion made it difficult for their voices to be heard. This thesis ends with The Longest Walk in 1978, which included WARN members marching to Washington D.C. to shed light on issues such as sterilization abuse and environmental justice.
The examination of news coverage on sterilization abuse of minority women, and American Indian activism in mainstream media and the limited attention given by regional newspapers illuminates the invisibility of American Indian women during this period. The analysis of American Indian activists and feminist activists’ agendas through personal accounts, AIM manifestos, and National Women’s Conference proceedings show the lack of focus on American Indian women’s concerns from 1968 to 1978.
Peters, Morgan, "Forgotten Women: The Involuntary Sterilization of American Indian Women during the Twentieth Century" (2018). Honors Theses. 1676.