Opinion Opinion

Coerced sterilizations are more than an attack on mothers; they're an attack on Indigenous nationhood

A new report details how Indigenous women in Saskatoon were pressured into undergoing tubal ligations

August 02, 2017

Reports to supposedly safeguard the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples — and more specifically, the wellbeing of Indigenous women — have been constructed for decades, with little progress. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)

Indigenous motherhood is the ultimate weapon in destroying colonialism.

That's why the report on Indigenous women being coerced into sterilizations is not simply a violation of the rights of the mothers — women who were pressured into signing consent forms for tubal ligations in the midst of labour — but also a violation of Indigenous nationhood.  


It is another genocidal tactic used against Indigenous nation-building: an act comparable to the murder of Indigenous children in the walls of residential schools. It is a routine that has been completed by the colonizer since contact occurred on these lands, only this time, Indigenous mothers are taking a stand by speaking out.

History of extermination

We have long seen examples of the colonizer attempting to sabotage and destroy the very foundation of Indigenous nation-building. From the violent pillaging and murder of the land, women and buffalo during settlement, to residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, the dysfunctional child welfare system and Highway of Tears: the bodies of Indigenous women — and the children they create — have become the route to exterminating the original peoples of these lands.

The independent investigation into this issue was launched after several Indigenous women in Saskatoon came forward alleging they had been coerced into consenting to tubal ligations after giving birth. The 57-page report includes an apology and calls for action that include better education, cultural training, revising of the tubal ligation consent policy and coordination with an advisory council of elders and community members. The language and jargon in the report will undoubtedly appeal to most readers.

However, a closer look at these recommendations reveals similarities to virtually every other colonially constructed report, and the same calls for action in relation to repairing the wrongdoings of intrinsically violent and patriarchal customs.

Reports to supposedly safeguard the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples — and more specifically, the wellbeing of Indigenous women — have been constructed for decades, with little progress. The outcome usually includes a generic public apology, along with a list of tasks that are more often than not left on the shelves, forgotten, as well a monetary settlement for victims to no longer discuss the issue. All the while, Indigenous women in Saskatoon are forced to live with the repercussions for the rest of their lives.

Racism in health care

Racism against Indigenous peoples existing in health care systems is not something new. It was evident when Brian Sinclair died in a Winnipeg emergency room in 2008 after being ignored for 34 hours. When Hugh Papik died from a stroke in 2016 after health care practitioners mistakenly assumed he was drunk. And it's obvious as countless Indigenous youth die by suicide, while much of the nation shrugs. The actions and behaviours of enablers in these cases are continuously justified, validated and defended, with a small collection of words directed towards an apology to the Indigenous "victim."

We are at a critical time and place where we need to begin recognizing the danger in treading the grounds of colonial systems, and the risk in relying on these very same systems for justice for our people, and more so, for our women. These systems were designed to destroy and conquer Indigenous peoples, and to the now-sterile women who have suffered by its hand, it certainly looks like nothing has changed.

With this in mind, let us pray that the women whose bodies became prey to the health care system receive the justice they deserve, for their families, and for our nations.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Andrea Landry

Andrea Landry is Anishinaabe from Pawgwasheeng (Pays Plat First Nation) but currently resides on Poundmaker Cree Nation. She is a mother and a professor, and she blogs about Indigenous revolution.

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