Native American Studies students speak out | 2

Chase Woods

I am a student who is currently taking the Native American Experience class here at NMU, and over the past ten weeks we have learned a lot of interesting, and shocking information.

As part of the Native American History month of November, I, along with other members of my class, have decided to share with you the knowledge we have gained. Something that particularly stuck out to me and that I found important was the topic of coerced
sterilization.

During the 1970s, many poor women from different ethnic backgrounds, including Native American, underwent sterilization procedures without giving consent or without really having knowledge of what the procedure entailed.

For example, in 1970 a woman by the name of Norma Jean Serena had recently lost custody of her children and was fighting to get them back when she learned that after her most recent child had been born, a hysterectomy had been performed on her without
her knowledge.

She stated that the physician had not explained the procedure in a way that she could understand, and she had no recollection of signing a consent form for the surgery.

Eventually, Serena went on to win her lawsuit, and protective services was found guilty of placing her children into foster homes under false pretense.

However, Serena was not shown the same sympathy in her lawsuit with her physician and was left to accept the fact that she could never have children again. One influencing factor believed to have led to this movement in the United States was the fear of
overpopulation.

As a result of the war on poverty put in place by Lyndon Johnson, there was remaining fear that dwindling resources would not be able to support a
larger population.

Hospitals at the time even followed a formula labeled the “Rule of 120” in an effort to carry out sterilizations. If a woman’s age multiplied by the number of children she had came out to 120, then she was eligible for sterilization.

This only meant that the procedure could be talked about, not forced on the patient. Unfortunately with this tactic, doctors were able to more effectively target women from a different ethnicity or financial background and take advantage of the fact that they may not know much about sterilization.

In a way, it gave medical personnel the power to decide who could
have children.

I have been fortunate enough to learn about these kinds of surreal events from our recent past, and it truly makes me appreciate how far we have come as a country since that time.

I believe that learning our true history is crucial so that it can never again be repeated. This information was collected from the article Native American Women and Coerced Sterilization in the 1970s, from the book Native American Voices written by Lobo, Talbot
and Morris.