Canada’s mistreatment of Indigenous peoples is not just in our history.
Many might be aware of the horrific history in Canada of the forced sterilization of Indigenous women. The issue is recognized as one in a long line of abuses that Indigenous women were forced to undergo throughout Canadian history… only it’s not just in our past history.
In 2018, news stories came out with information about recent and ongoing coerced and forced sterilization of Indigenous women. A story published by the Huffington Post outlines a number of situations happening in Saskatchewan, as well as Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, and details the stories of women who were coerced, told they had no other choice, and/or faced with the decision during active labour: all situations where proper and informed consent are lacking.
In response to the news, I reached out to Indigenous women on our campus. Ashleigh Giffen, President of the Indigenous Students Council (ISC) states that she was not surprised, and that we, as settlers, should be critical of our own shock. Giffen emphasized that “historically, Indigenous people and women have had little agency over our bodies,” with the current domination of the land being an example of the lack of agency.
Taya Jardine and Tashia Kootenayoo further Giffen’s statements. Jardine states that she wanted to be “more surprised or shocked that this could be done… but [she] feels like [she] already has such a tainted view of the treatment of Indigenous women.” Kootenayoo said, “In this case I really believe it is an issue of the failure to acknowledge Indigenous women as humans. The actions of these doctors really demonstrates an abuse of power and authority.”
All three women emphasized that the situation is another example that the system is not meant for the health and wellbeing of Indigenous peoples. Kootenayoo stated, “the failure of the system to protect these Indigenous women shows how these structures were not meant to benefit us but instead favor the privileged and ignore our voices… it is cases and situations such as these that remind us of our failure to be ‘white’ and as such, to be regarded as ‘equal’… the Canadian government still so easily disregards our humanity and our lives.”
Both Giffen and Jardine feel that the news won’t change anything. Jardine explained that there is “nothing [she] can think of that would ever make this better for those women. At this point, taking Indigenous women’s rights to their own bodies and moreover their right to birth and nurture the future of our nations is one of the worst and the most detrimental things that can be done to [Indigenous women].” Giffen acknowledged that hopefully, this will show Canadians that colonialism isn’t past, but also said she too doesn’t believe it will change much.
“If anything”, Giffen recounted, “this should be a reminder to my people that we can’t trust [settlers] and we need to take care of ourselves. The fact that we can’t trust a healthcare system that’s supposed to be for all Canadians just shows that we can’t really trust anybody.”As a final comment, Kootenayoo ended with, “Our women are the backbone of our nations and we need to protect them. It is important that people recognize that this is a clear violation of human rights.”
Kootenayoo’s comment about the recognition of a human rights abuse is sad, considering that nothing has happened since the news came out. As all three women implied in their comments, this isn’t surprising or new for Indigenous communities; it is simply another violation of their agency and rights, another violation to go right along with our history of settler-Indigenous relations, and our current mistreatment of Indigenous land, culture, and bodies.