Friday, March 25, 2011

The Conquest of our Bodies


 Dan Waters is a snarky 22 year old queer biracial wonderment who is part White, Portuguese, and Native American (Wampanoag-Kiowa). He currently lives in Massachusetts, and plans to become a Lawyer. That is, if he can survive Algonquin language classes and polyamorous dating right now! He also identifies as Two Spirit, and prefers male pronouns, but cherishes his female body that he was given graciously by the Creator. He blogs at Identity Exposure.

Note on terminology: I use Native American, American Indian, and Indian interchangeably. There really seems to be no consensus even amongst ourselves what we want to be called, and I personally feel that as long as you don’t call me Red, prairie nigger, or Chief, I think things will be fine.

Many Native women remember the gruesome stories and woodcuts that depict violence against Native Americans, and even more untold torture onto Indian women and children. Women were fed to war dogs alive, sometimes to be raped and eaten (yes, eaten) for show. The mercy granted on children was that there was typically a priest would be there to baptize them, and then they were put in a pile to either die from exposure, or set on fire, or even more food for the dogs. If anyone wants to try and dispute this, please go ahead and read anything written by the monks and priests that accompanied them (most notably, Rodrigo Rangel for De Soto’s journeys, or Bartolom√© de las Casas works). This isn’t just the ramblings of a “crazy injun”.

What if it were apparent that the threat against Indian women was still around? A lot more subtle than conquistadors of the past, America has always had a policy of trying to get rid of Indians. Besides fucked up blood quantum laws, putting us on reservations and then off them and then BACK on them, the most atrocious of them all (to me) is the attack on our women and their reproductive systems.

Women of Red Nations (WARN) were made through the American Indian Movement back in the 60’s. Its goals were to protect and educate women, and to report the forced sterilization of women that was happening on reservations. Healthcare and doctors are typically provided by the United States (thus preventing us from creating our own autonomy, but I digress). Countless reports of experimentation (especially in the form of unknown vaccines), looping around consent laws, and pressuring abortions on women were collected. Still, not much is done.

I have a strong belief it still happens, and was brushed under the rug after the trend of “Indians are cool!” died out into the 80’s. During an Honors project I was working on, I came in contact with a Deaf Native American woman who is Cree. She told me about how she lost her first child, in 1994. Her name has been changed, and this is what Marie told me:

“I was considered a dummy, you know? I knew sign and they wouldn’t get me an interpreter. I had to have my cousin recite what he [the doctor] said because he had a mustache and I could not lip read him. He said that since I was so young [20] and unmarried, and deaf, and lived with my mother and her parents [like a lot of us on the reservation], that I shouldn’t raise a kid. I think I was weaker then. He kept saying it over and over, and was rubbing my back, like, this abortion was the best idea for everyone. I wanted to keep the baby, but I went ahead. I was worried he’d get social services involved.”

Marie went on later and had two kids, and got married. She was, again, pressured to get rid of her second child because her soon-to-be-husband and she were not married, and she subsequently went to live with his parents. This time she said no, but she still wonders what her first child could have been like. She told me that many of her female relatives said she was lucky, because many times at the first abortion, they have been sterilized or faced trouble getting pregnant from then on.

Forced sterilization is not something that happens off in far away, 3rd world countries. It happens right here, at our very own doorstep. If you want to read more about this topic, specifically to Native American women, a great book out there is called Conquest by Andrea Smith.