Canada’s shame: the coerced sterilization of Indigenous women

In 1972, the longest-running and most aggressive sexual sterilization law in Canada was finally repealed. Yet, policies of sterilization still persisted, revived under the guise of ‘family planning’ and targeting women and men declared incapable of responsible parenting. Sixty Indigenous women are currently filing a class action lawsuit alleging forced sterilization dating back 30 years in Saskatchewan. Some of the sterilizations occurred as late as 2017 (…) As Stern points out, the protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s were in part a response to the effects of eugenics-based polices and rationales. Yet, Indigenous women continued to be subjected to discriminatory treatment in hospitals. In “An Act of Genocide: Colonialism and the Sterilization of Aboriginal Women”, Karen Stote argues the control of Indigenous women’s reproductive capacities has been central to the strategic and systematic targeting of Indigenous Peoples for assimilation into Canadian society. Coercive sterilization was rationalized as a means of protecting society and women from the stresses of additional births, and to reduce the birth rate and the extent of the federal government’s obligations to Indigenous Peoples. Eugenic ideology “served as a convenient rationalization for the dire circumstances created by colonization”. Coercive sterilization, argues Stote, served as a compounded strategy to exert colonial control to shape the sexual lives of Indigenous women, who were often “referred to as sexually promiscuous, Aboriginal women were considered immoral and blamed for prostitution, the spread of venereal disease and alcohol problems, and were generally said to represent a threat to the public”. Stote’s research uncovered that 580 coercive sterilizations were carried out by “eugenically-minded doctors” between 1971 and 1972 in federal ‘Indian hospitals’.

Jaipreet Virdi in Canada’s shame: the coerced sterilization of Indigenous women (