Sterilization in the 1970s: Native Women, Newspaper Coverage, and Community

By Meera White

Edited by Jonathan Lanz and Alyssa Rusell

Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Meera White is a current senior at Kenyon College in the small town of Gambier, Ohio. As a History major, she focuses on the United States and the voices of marginalized peoples, including Native peoples and women of color. She spent her Spring 2017 semester in Tucson, Arizona as part of Earlham College’s Border Studies Program to learn more about the issues of the U.S.-Mexico border. Her hobbies include ornithology, experimental poetry, and the visual arts. She would like to thank Professor Bruce Kinzer and Professor Patrick Bottiger of the Kenyon College History Department for their guidance and support

Author’s Note

There are a variety of terms to identify peoples of Native descent in the United States. They include American Indian, Native American, Indigenous, and Native, among others. Community or tribal group names, such as Navajo or Eastern Cherokee, are used to describe peoples in more specific instances. In this essay, you will most often find the terms “Native” and “Native peoples.” This is both to group and describe the subjects of this historical analysis as a whole, and also to maintain the terminology employed by many of my primary sources from the 1970s. The Native women most effected by sterilization usually lived in urban or suburban areas, where their specific tribal identities were not consistently or correctly recognized by their communities.

“How it is with us”

Flip past the cover page of a 1974 edition of the newspaper, Akwesasne Notes, and one will find, on the second page, a featured section written by its editors, titled appropriately: “How it is with us.”[1] This section offered updates about the newspaper and served as a window into the efforts of its writers and staff. As the official publication of the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne in upstate New York, Akwesasne Notes was an integral part of Native affairs and life. The “us” was not only the Mohawk people, but all of the publication’s subscribers interested in Native issues. The “how” referenced not only the staff’s daily affairs and those of the Mohawk Nation, but also the more general state of affairs for Native peoples in the United States. The newspaper advocated for its community, which it conceptualized as both the specific Mohawk peoples and all Native peoples. It was published from 1969 to 1996.

In 1974, it ran its first article on sterilization: “Sterilization of Young Native Women Alleged at Indian Hospital—48 Operations in July, 1974 Alone.” The article detailed the high incidence of female surgical sterilization at an Indian Health Service (IHS) hospital in Claremore, Oklahoma. It emphasized the lack of counseling given to patients and the implications of a practice that could be deemed genocidal.[2] This article marked the beginning of increased newspaper coverage on Native sterilization abuse and its profound effect on Native peoples.

Discussion of this issue calls for a contextual understanding of the relationship between Native North American peoples and the federal government of the United States. In return for land and through a series of binding treaties, the United States government is bound to provide certain resources to Native populations. The Indian Health Service (IHS), established in 1968, provides medical care for Natives. During the 1970s, this care included thousands of sterilization procedures such as tubal ligations and complete hysterectomies.[3] It soon became apparent that many of these procedures were abusive practices when Native women complained of coerced signatures, consent for these procedures during or after labor, and misinformation about the permanency of sterilization. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report released information on Native sterilizations after the request of Senator James Abourezk (Democrat, South Dakota). In its coverage from 1973 to 1976, the GAO revealed 3,406 sterilizations in just four of the 12 IHS facilities nationwide.[4] In the 1970s, with a Native population of a less than a million, the ramifications were astounding.[5] It was unclear if sterilization occurred in other IHS facilities, but if it did, it is possible that up to one-fourth of Native women were permanently sterilized.[6] Additionally, the GAO Report included the concession that many of the consent forms used for sterilizations were not up to date with current guidelines by the federal Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW).[7] Considering the complexity of Native sterilization, it was featured in Native presses such as the Akwesasne Notes as a part of a growing concern about Native women’s issues.

The Native “us” signaled by the Akwesasne Notes’ inside page was concerned with survival. Natives kept in mind the massacres of military expeditions, forced expulsion from land, and the prevalence of boarding schools that “reeducated” Native youths in the 19th century.[8] In the 20th century, social workers also began to remove Native children from their homes and place them into adoption systems.[9] The combination of these very real threats to Native life left an alarming legacy regarding the future of Native peoples. Sterilization took place against the backdrop of these issues alongside the disturbing and destructive history of eugenics and racial ideology, which will be assessed in detail later. Additionally, many Native women refused to discuss their own sterilization, believing that either their federal welfare would be withdrawn or out of shame for their condition.[10]  Akwesasne Notes presented an opportunity to reclaim Native communities persecuted by sterilization by recognizing women’s experiences and creating networks of support and resistance.

While it might seem obvious that Native presses covered this issue, Native sterilization could also be found in the pages of publications with majority white, middle class audiences such as the Los Angeles Times and The Trenton Times, and by feminist presses such as Heresies and Off Our Backs. This widespread interest may have stemmed from increased Native voice through the American Indian Movement of the 1970s, which brought Native interests to the forefront of America’s consciousness.[11] Native presses such as the Akwesasne Notes viewed sterilization as part of a wider process of injustice begun long before, while mainstream presses continually treated it as a fixed and static event. To these “mainstream” presses, the revelations surrounding mass sterilization were imbued with pity and victimization. Native communities strengthened their ties of identity in response to this crisis, while non-Native presses attempted to situate these issues in the neatly arranged contexts of economic status and feminist rhetoric. The stakes for Natives were much higher than they were for the interested white majority. Native Americans rejected the entire system of Native treatment—both medically and socially—that resulted in sterilization, while non-Native publications only sought to address its symptoms. The treatment of Native sterilization in non-Native presses facilitated Natives’ confrontation with the federal system’s inability to resolve Native issues. This was part of a process that enabled the creation of organizations, such as Women of All Red Nations, that focused on Native women’s rights. Opposition to Native sterilization became a defining force in the broader endeavor for Native rights.

Pervasive Sterilization

Coerced sterilizations were not limited to Native populations. They were also experienced by Black and Hispanic females in the 1970s.[12] The increased rate of sterilization stemmed from the 19th century eugenics movement, which hoped to decrease the population of inferior groups, such as those with mental handicaps.[13] In 2004, the scholar Myla Carpio discussed these factors in her article, “The Lost Generation: American Indian Women and Sterilization Abuse,” citing an amalgamation of “imperialism, capitalism, patriarchy, and [eugenicist] Malthusianism” that created an “international interest in fertility control of ‘lower-class’ people.”[14]  This context informed mainstream newspaper press coverage of sterilization, but not with a specific focus on Native populations. As early as 1973, The New York Times featured an article titled “H.E.W. Head Curbs Sterilization Aid,” referencing the federal Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). The Secretary of HEW was in the process of creating guidelines for federally-funded sterilizations after two young black girls in Alabama were “involuntarily sterilized.”[15] This article appeared earlier than any about Native sterilization. However, Native sterilizations were occurring; the Akwesasne Notes published an article discussing the topic only a year afterward. It is unclear if mainstream presses actively avoided or simply were unaware of the subject of Native sterilization, but it remains relevant to the broader issue of sterilization of marginalized peoples. Native presses came to fill the void in order to confront and resolve Native issues.

The New York Times continued its coverage of sterilization with an article titled “The Volatile Issue of Sterilization Abuse” in 1977. Native concerns were included here, but only in a cursory manner. The article follows the case of Mrs. Cliett, a non-Native woman who was sterilized, alongside information about federal guidelines and the impact of coercion. Native sterilization received only a sentence’s worth of notice.[16] The sentence declared the upcoming court date of Norma Jean Serena, identified as a “Shawnee Indian.”[17] Despite this knowledge about Native sterilization, Nadine Brozan, the author, decided not to pursue the topic in detail.

This brief note mirrored the approach of many mainstream publications. Native stories did not receive priority and Native voices were rarely consulted by the journalists concerned. This denial of Native voices suggests that Native presses may have been forced to cover these issues in order to create communities of support around these marginalized Native women.

Norma Jean Serena: Silencing and Voice

Akwesasne Notes pursued Serena’s story in the late summer of 1975 in an article titled: “Native Woman Sues Over Illegal Sterilization, Seizure of Children.” The article detailed Norma Jean Serena’s legal battle with the district courts in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania for her sterilization and the removal of her children to foster homes. Her sterilization did not occur in an Indian Health Service (IHS) facility; however, it was still funded by federal healthcare. Serena maintained that she had given her children good care and that her sterilization was involuntary. Serena was coerced into signing her consent after the surgery, when authorities told her “any subsequent pregnancies might result in the birth of retarded or deformed children.” The paper offered an important point about the justification for sterilizations: “The medical reason for the sterilization for Serena, a welfare recipient, was officially stated as socioeconomic.”[18] Even though those who sterilized Serena perceived her condition in terms of economic status, her identity as a Native woman had ramifications for the Native community. In accordance with the newspaper’s focus on Native affairs, the article stated that the “Serena case is viewed as a typical one,” noting that “almost a third” of Native children are removed and “one native woman out of seven is now sterile.”[19] The article contained no interview material from Serena. Despite a concern for Native affairs and a largely Native audience, this article failed to incorporate Serena’s own voice. This omission notwithstanding, the article’s conclusion signals a new departure. After a brief comment on sterilization’s use against all minority groups, the article cited her attorney’s address and urged that “letters of support” for Serena be sent to him.[20] Thus, the effort was made to foster a sense of unity among Native peoples that could be expressed through finding common ground with Serena. In the space left behind by non-Native presses’ treatment of Native sterilization, publications like Akwesasne Notes assisted in the creation of networks of support for the women most affected by sterilization.

Two feminist publications, Heresies and Off Our Backs, also concluded their articles about Serena with an address for letters and request for support. These articles provided key details about the case. Serena’s sterilization and the forced removal of her children to foster homes occurred in 1970. Serena’s children were returned after three years and she was awarded $17,000 in damages from the Pennsylvania court in 1979, though it is unclear if Serena ever actually acquired the sum of the award.[21] Off Our Backs’ 1975 article emphasized the removal of Serena’s children, and the practice’s ubiquity in other Native American communities. Heresies’ 1979 article did not consider the context of federally mandated health care systems for Native women in the United States and maintained that Serena was “… fighting for herself and for all poor and Third World women who face forced sterilization.”[22] Serena’s situation was interpreted as a method to attract support for a larger feminist movement. In this way, Heresies’ portrayal of Serena manipulated her identity to suit its audience, rather than aiming to understand the situation of Native women. Heresies concluded that all women can expect similar “insensitivity and brutality” in the courts. For the authors of this article, Serena’s case was an indicator of an economic disparity that subjected females to abuse and manipulation. Despite the inclusion of an address to which letters of support could be sent, feminist presses fell short in supporting Native women by ignoring their Native identity. These two feminist presses avoided discussing such topics as the coercion of only receiving healthcare from IHS or other federally-funded facilities and the poverty that hindered legal recourse.

The Chicago Committee to End Sterilization Abuse (CESA) published an article in 1977 titled, “Sterilization Abuse: A Task for the Women’s Movement.” It noted the inability of the women’s movement to deal with racial minorities’ sterilization: “The response of the women’s movement to these abuses has been varied, and not always successful.”[23] The self-awareness of this author demonstrated the possibility of non-Native presses to respond, in a more constructive manner, to Native sterilization. The article’s conclusion called for more support in enforcing HEW guidelines and working within communities. The inability to treat Native issues in response to sterilization was not a consistent trait of all non-Native presses, but it was a detrimental approach to sterilization. Despite CESA’s reflection, the other two feminist publications suggest that by ignoring the struggles of Serena in the context of Native women and sterilization, the greater endeavors for Native female reproductive rights were also damaged.

Akwesasne Notes expanded Serena’s story by offering a conclusion to her court case in their 1979 article, “Serena Wins Half-Battle.” Even though Serena did receive compensation, it was for her children’s removal, not for her sterilization. Serena lamented this: “‘I’m sort of upset. The sterilization should have been the main thing.’”[24] Both the title and Serena’s statement reflected a general disappointment with the legal system, and by extension the federal system, in ignoring the issue of coercion present in these sterilizations. The court used Serena’s signed consent form as justification for the sterilization procedure. Serena maintained, though, that she did not have a full understanding of the procedure and that her signature was only obtained afterwards. The article stated that Mrs. Burgess of Armstrong County’s Child Welfare Services coerced Serena into signing the sterilization consent forms by claiming, “‘She’s too stupid to know what she’s signing.”[25] The article did not comment on whether or not other witnesses debated Serena’s claims concerning the consent form. The inclusion of Serena’s voice in the form of direct quotation, however, added to an understanding of this coercion through a distinctly Native perspective. While both the feminist presses’ articles were published before the final decision of Serena’s case, their lack of interest in and inclusion of Serena’s voice demonstrated their inability to understand Native identity. In contrast, the Akwesasne Notes placed Serena’s story within a Native context and gave agency to her own voice.

Serena’s story aligned with a pattern of sterilization in IHS facilities, demonstrated by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report’s statistics. The Akwesasne Notes stated that Serena faced sterilization after her move away from a dense population of Native peoples in Oklahoma City. By including this detail, the Akwesasne Notes provided an important point about Native identity and race. It viewed her sterilization as a response to perceptions about the racial inferiority of Native individuals that warranted prevention of their reproduction. The article concluded by noting that despite her relocation to a predominately white area—Armstrong County, Pennsylvania— “racial discrimination toward Indians has no state borders or geographic boundaries.”[26] The Akwesasne Notes refused to ignore the importance of racial ideologies to sterilization while the aforementioned feminist presses avoided treating this issue. By including perspectives about race, the Akwesasne Notes added to their audience’s understanding of sterilization rather than attributing its cause to a single factor, such as poverty. This multifaceted approach was important because it allowed Native women’s treatment in press to reckon with the numerous factors that led to their sterilization, and therefore be better equipped at defending their own reproductive rights.

Beyond Serena: Initial Reactions

While feminist presses and Native presses covered sterilization, so did non-Native publications. The Trenton Times in Trenton, New Jersey published a 1976 article authored by Jack Cloherty and Bob Owens titled “Indians used as guinea pigs.” [27] The article does not emphasize women’s rights but it does follow the method of the aforementioned feminist presses by avoiding Native identity and Native voice. Instead of consulting Native voices such as Serena, the article summarized the GAO Report, presenting the incident rate of sterilization in IHS hospitals. The article’s reference to “guinea pigs” can be explained by the GAO Report’s inclusion of Native individuals who were unknowingly subjected to pharmaceutical testing in IHS facilities. In emphasizing these aspects of the GAO Report, not only was sterilization seen as an unimportant or secondary topic, but Native female voices were excluded. The difficulty of gaining Native perspective may explain this lack Native female voice. However, the impact of this type of coverage was still integral to Native perception by white, American audiences. This coverage may have contributed to a popular perception of Natives by suggesting that their voices were unimportant.

In contrast to this method of news reportage, the Akwesasne Notes’ 1979 article, “Growing Fight Against Sterilization of Native Women,” incorporated Native voice and perspective. The article opened with a sweeping claim: the “U.S. government is currently engaged in a genocidal campaign designed to rid itself of the Native people.” It referenced “the guns and epidemics which nearly accomplished this in the 19th century.”[28] Native sterilization was not a static event meriting only the sort of summary note provided by the Trenton Times. The Akwesasne Notes perceived this event as part of an historical process that began when white, European settlers first made contact with Native peoples. The divergent approaches of Native and non-Native presses were most evident in these two articles. The Trenton Times’ viewed Native sterilization as a singular event, in relation to the report of a government agency, not in relation to the voices of Native victims. Non-Native presses dealt only with the symptoms of a continuing process, while ignoring the process itself. The Akwesasne Notes devoted its attention to these symptoms by introducing Native voice. It also emphasized sterilization’s place in the process of the discriminatory treatment of Native Americans by federal services and American society. The Akwesasne Notes’ use of this perspective suggests that it aimed to change the system rather than to treat its shortcomings.

Defying the System

Native sterilization’s treatment in Native and non-Native presses was not merely a lens through which to understand America’s relation to Native peoples. It was also manifested in the growing rejection of existing federal systems for Native peoples. Non-Native presses’ denial of Native identity and Native voice assisted Native women leaders’ realization in seizing control of their own reproductive rights. This drive for control was first evident in rising vigilance and greater awareness. A 1977 Los Angeles Times article titled, “Doctor Raps Sterilization of Indian Women: Claims That Many Are Pressured at Government Hospitals,” highlighted one of these Native powerhouses in the debates over sterilization. It engaged with the Native voice of Choctaw-Cherokee doctor, Constance Pinkerton-Uri, “who has been active in Indian health reforms.”[29] Indeed, Dr. Pinkerton-Uri was, at that time, referenced by several newspapers, including the Akwesasne Notes.[30] By introducing this Native perspective, the Los Angeles Times demonstrated attention to the individuals most affected by sterilization. The newspaper’s interest in Native affairs is evidenced by the large Native American population in 1970s Los Angeles, only rivaled by the Navajo reservation.[31] Dr. Pinkerton-Uri’s efforts to create awareness about sterilization had reached beyond the Native-conscious audiences of the Akwesasne Notes to the readers of these larger publications. This piece was not a front-page story, but its presence nonetheless demonstrated a growing engagement with and attention to Native concerns. However, the authors of the Los Angeles Times article did not interview Native women who had undergone the procedure. This may have been a result of the fear that some Native women felt in discussing their sterilization.[32] However, Dr. Pinkerton-Uri’s presence in the Los Angeles Times reflected her pioneering efforts in mounting resistance to sterilization.

While Serena’s suit in her local district court and Dr. Pinkerton-Uri’s involvement in Indian federal health reform may suggest a willingness to work within legal systems, an outright rejection of these federal systems was also evident. In the 1974 Akwesasne Notes article on Native sterilization discussed at the beginning of this paper, Dr. Pinkerton-Uri functioned outside the government’s healthcare system. She “[conducted] clinic in the tipi, providing services which patients preferred to obtain there – or which were unavailable to them in the hospital,” indicating a repudiation of the IHS facilities’ care.[33] Alongside two other Native physicians, Phyllis Jackson and Milo Fat Beaver, a distinctly Native response was formed in resistance to sterilization and in acceptance of Native women’s position within that community. The tipi was pitched on the lawn of an IHS facility in Claremore, Oklahoma, as part of an occupation in response to the neglect of complaints about sterilization.[34] This was in conjunction with the American Indian Movement (AIM), a male-centered movement whose androcentric approach to Native rights would spur the creation of a new Native group.

This new Native group was featured in the Akwesasne Notes’ 1978 article, “Women of All Red Nations, or W.A.R.N.”[35] The group refused to view itself as separate from Indian men or as adopting the approach of “…what they term ‘the women’s’ liberation movement.”[36] Rather, WARN, perceived themselves as placing Native women’s interests within the broader struggle for Native American rights in the United States. They divorced themselves from the perspective of the feminist publications examined earlier—Off Our Backs and Heresies—by implicitly noting their limited perspective. The organization was also responding to the media’s inadequate coverage of sterilization by noting their treatment of the 1973 occupation at Wounded Knee: “…people who experienced that occupation know that beyond the view of the television cameras and outside of the news conferences, women played a crucial role in organizing, motivating, and supporting that action.”[37] The organization was an implicit response to the media’s inability to accurately reflect the identity and conditions of Native women. WARN presented its focus on the “pressing matters facing the Indian peoples” including “…destruction of the family, sterilization abuse, [and] theft [of] Indian children.”[38] WARN emphasized that sterilization abuse not only affected Native women, but all Native people and their future.

The specificity of Native women’s rights was demonstrated by WARN through Katsi Cook, a WARN representative who spoke during the workshop on Ethical Issues in Human Reproduction Technology: Analysis by Women, held in Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1979.[39] Cook neglected to mention sterilization abuse despite its importance at the time. However, as the workshop aimed to discuss topics related women’s reproductive technology, such as sterilization abuse, her statements can be applied to how WARN viewed sterilization. Cook rejected relegating Native issues to past context, stating, “People like to talk about traditional Indian culture as if it’s a romantic museum curiosity.”[40] This claim placed Native issues, including sterilization abuse, within the context of the modern socioeconomic and cultural atmosphere. Cook also emphasized the importance of women to Native communities, stating, “Women are the base of the generations. Our reproductive power is sacred to us.”[41] Sterilization abuse threatened not only individual Native women, but the survival of Native cultures and population. It was clear that WARN and its representatives understood the unique situation of Native women and were willing to create awareness around these issues. This is further evidenced by Katsi Cook’s participation in the workshop amongst women of other organizations that, “…represented diverse occupations and personal histories, different races and classes, varied political commitments.”[42] Both mainstream and non-Native presses may have covered sterilization, but non-Native presses failed to emphasize the importance of Native women to their communities and the implications of survival and genocide. WARN responded to Native women’s struggles through their efforts in raising recognition and awareness.

Even though the creation of WARN was a landmark achievement for Native women, the specific issue of sterilization was treated in conjunction with other Native issues. Native women most vulnerable to sterilization also needed education. The Akwesasne Notes provided this in a 1980 article titled: “Sterilization: What Are Your Rights.”[43] At the end of the media storm surrounding Native sterilization, this article reflected a sensitivity to Native female identity. The article listed the rights guaranteed by the HEW Department in 1979 as a response to the previous abuses of federally-funded sterilization.[44] This included the right to information, the right to full description of the procedure, and the right to federal welfare even if one decided to refuse sterilization, amongst other rights.[45] Native women had been coerced into consent, through threats about welfare and through the authority of the doctors. Whereas non-Native presses consistently presented facts and observations about sterilization, the Akwesasne Notes presented life-saving advice and information. It opened up avenues of resistance in the form of education that enforced protection from sterilization abuse. Ostensibly, only subscribers to the newspaper would see this article, but its presence nonetheless suggested a reaction to sterilization and its limited coverage by other media outlets. Native individuals tightened their group membership by embracing the situation of Native women and offering protection and support through WARN and this informational article.

Another Native-sensitive publication, the American Indian Journal, published a series of articles on Native sterilization authored by Brint Dillingham. His first article appeared in 1977, titled: “Indian Women and IHS Sterilization Practices.”[46] In this article, Dillingham noted the specific situation of Native women who may have been coerced and misinformed about sterilization, noting the GAO Report’s conclusion that consent forms were not up-to-date. He claimed that it “… raises serious enough questions as to how free and unintimidated the ‘consent’ really is.”[47] Although his approach was similar to non-Native presses in the presentation of the GAO Report and the incident rate of sterilizations, the series was significant in its attention to specific Native issues. As a series, the articles presented a long-term commitment to awareness, rather than perceiving it as a singular event to be covered once. Additionally, the articles placed sterilization in the context of the survival of Native peoples as a whole. In a 1978 article titled “Sterilization: A Conference and a Report,” Dillingham claims: “Sterilization severs the ties to the unborn future.”[48] The article provided similar educational awareness as “Sterilization: What Are Your Rights” by reporting a list of the “highlights of the proposed regulations” for sterilization by the HEW department. Scholar Myla Carpio also argues for the importance of Native publications: “American Indian women, doctors, and Indian publications (for example, the American Indian Journal and Akwesasne Notes) contributed to the awareness of sterilization abuse.”[49] It is important to note that Native interest in sterilization and their attention to the unique situation of Native women was also in part a response to non-Native publication’s reportage on sterilization and their inability to adequately capture the extent and severity of the issue.

“Keep Us Strong!”

On the inside page of the 1974 edition of Akwesasne Notes, beneath “How It Is With Us,” is another section titled: “Keep Us Strong!”[50] This section advertised the need for assistance from the paper’s readers and subscribers, who were asked to cover events for the Akwesasne Notes, write articles, or sell the paper. The title of this section also reflected the outcome of the sterilization controversy: a strengthening of “Us,” or the Native peoples. It was not clear that Natives would have seen sterilization articles published in mainstream presses, but it can be assumed that they were aware of mainstream media’s perception of Native affairs. Dr. Pinkerton-Uri’s presence in mainstream presses reflected a desire to correct and better inform the public about Native sterilization in order to counter a variety of faulty perceptions. The non-Native publications’ symptomatic analysis of sterilization failed to consider the underlying inadequacies of the Native federal healthcare system. Native presses and individuals responded to these perceptions by placing sterilization in the context of Native history while validating the continued struggles of Natives in modern America. Native peoples, through the creation of WARN and educational articles in the Akwesasne Notes and American Indian Journal, mobilized around the cause of sterilization. This contributed to a foundation of new spheres of control and voice for Native women. Native peoples likely understood that non-Native presses offered limited benefit in the struggle against sterilization. These pioneering efforts illustrated a commitment to Native women’s rights. Native communities would need to perpetuate their resolve in order to strengthen Native identity, or, in other words, to “Keep Us Strong!”


Carpio, Myla. “The Lost Generation: American Indian Women and Sterilization Abuse.” Social Justice 31, no. 4 (2004): 40-53.

“The Case of Norma Jean Serena.” Heresies. 26, no. 4 (1979): 132. 1979. Accessed September 27, 2015. Independent Voices.

The Chicago Committee to End Sterilization Abuse (CESA). “Sterilization Abuse: A Task for the Women’s Movement.” Chicago Women’s Liberation Union Herstory. Originally published January 1977. Last modified October 24, 2004. Accessed December 14, 2015. LUArchive/cesa.html

Cook, Katsi. “A Native American Response.” In Birth Control and Controlling Birth: Women Centered Perspectives, edited by Helen Holmes, Betty B. Hoskins, and Michael Gross, 251-258. Clifton, New Jersey: The Humana Press Inc., 1980.

Dillingham, Brint. “Indian Women and IHS Sterilization Practices.” American Indian Journal 3, no. 1 (January 1977): 27-28.

Dillingham, Brint. “Sterilization: A Conference and a Report.” American Indian Journal 4, no. 4 (January 1978): 13-16.

Evanoff, Ruthann. “Sterilization Guidelines.” Health PAC Bulletin, no. 80 (January/February 1978): 19-20.

General Accounting Office. Investigation of Allegations Concerning Indian Health Service, by Elmer B. Staats. HRD-77-3. November 4, 1976.

Gurr, Barbara. Reproductive Justice: The Politics of Health Care for Native American Women. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2015.

Holmes, Helen, Betty B. Hoskins, and Michael Gross. “Preface.” In Birth Control and Controlling Birth: Women Centered Perspectives, edited by Helen Holmes, Betty B. Hoskins, and Michael Gross: ix-xi.  Clifton, New Jersey: The Humana Press Inc, 1980.

Kluchin, Rebecca S. Critical Issues in Health and Medicine: Fit to Be Tied: Sterilization and Reproductive Rights in America, 1950-1980. New Brunswick, NJ, USA: Rutgers University Press, 2009. Accessed September 27, 2015. ProQuest ebrary.

Lawrence, Jane. “The Indian Health Service and the Sterilization of Native American Women.” American Indian Quarterly 24, no. 3 (2000): 400-419.

Ralston-Lewis, D. Marie. “The Continuing Struggle Against Genocide: Indigenous Women’s Reproductive Rights.” Wicazo sa Review 20, no.1 (Spring 2005): 71-95.

Rutecki, Gregory. “Forced sterilization of Native Americans: Later twentieth century physician cooperation with national eugenic policies?” Ethics & Medicine 27, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 33-42.

Stairs, Arlene. “Betrayals of Justice and Visions Beyond: Indigenous/Other Perspectives.” Native Studies Review 15, no 2 (2004): 107-116.

Torpy, Sally. “Native American Women and Coerced Sterilization: On the Trail of Tears in the 1970s.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 24, no. 2 (2000): 1-22.


[1] “How It Is With Us,” Akwesasne Notes, Early Winter 1974.

[2] “Sterilization of Young Native Women Alleged at Indian Hospital—48 Operations in July, 1974 Alone,” Akwesasne Notes, 1974.

[3] Encyclopedia of United States Indian Policy and Law, “Expansion of Indian Healthcare and Improving Health,” (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2009): 414. The Chicago Committee to End Sterilization Abuse (CESA) “Sterilization Abuse: A Task for the Women’s Movement,” Chicago Women’s Liberation Union Herstory, originally published January 1977. Last modified October 24, 2004, accessed December 14, 2015, Tubal ligations involve the severing of the Fallopian tubes while hysterectomies remove the entire uterus.

[4] Government Accountability Office, Investigation of Allegations Concerning Indian Health Service, Elmer B. Staats, HRD-77-, November 4, 1976: 18.

[5] “Doctor Raps Sterilization of Indian Women,” Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1977.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ruthann Evanoff, “Sterilization Guidelines,” Health PAC Bulletin, no. 80 (January/February 1978): 19.

[8] During the late 1800s and early 1900s, many Native American children were removed from their homes on reservations to Indian boarding schools. These schools aimed to assimilate Indians to American culture through English-only teaching, as well as separation from Native cultural values and their families. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School which operated in Carlisle, Pennsylvania is the most well-known boarding school; it enforced military-style regiments with the aim of “de-Indianizing” its students. For more information see: Clifford Trafzer, Jean Keller, and Lorene Sisquoc, eds. Boarding School Blues: Revisiting American Indian Educational Experiences (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2006). The influence of boarding schools is also evident in the 1970s Native collective memory through its inclusion in a larger article on sterilization, see Gail Javis, “The Theft of Life,” Awkesasne Notes, September 1977.

[9] Gail Javis, “The Theft of Life,” Awkesasne Notes, September 1977.

[10] Myla Carpio, “The Lost Generation: American Indian Women and Sterilization Abuse,” Social Justice 31, no. 4 (2004): 41.

[11] Encyclopedia of United States Indian Policy and Law, “American Indian Movement (AIM),” (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2009): 76.

[12] Carpio, 40.

[13] Sally Torpy, “Native American Women and Coerced Sterilization: On the Trail of Tears in the 1970s,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 24, no. 2 (2000): 3.

[14] Carpio, 40. Malthusianism is the idea that “the number of people [population] grows geometrically while the food supply increases only arithmetically,” see Torpy, 2.

[15] Bill Kovach, “H.E.W. Head Curbs Sterilization Aid: He Bars Federal Funds for Involuntary Operations,” New York Times, July 6, 1973.

[16] The article contained quotes from Ms. Cliett about her desire to have the sterilization reversed and included information about her personal life. The article also included information about the Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s then-newly created sterilization regulations, how sterilization was conducted in coercive manners, and the difficulty of enforcing these regulations. Nadine Brozan, “The Volatile Issue of Sterilization Abuse: A Tangle of Accusations and Remedies,” New York Times, December 9, 1977.

[17] “The Volatile Issue of Sterilization Abuse.”

[18] “Woman Sues Over Illegal Sterilization, Seizure of Children,” Akwesasne Notes, Summer 1975. Most of the Akwesasne Notes articles have no author, as the majority of pieces were written collaboratively by the staff.

[19] “Woman Sues Over Illegal Sterilization, Seizure of Children.”

[20] Ibid.

[21] “The Case of Norma Jean Serena,” Heresies 26, no. 4 (1979): 132. “Norma Jean Serena,” Off Our Backs, July 1, 1975.

[22] “The Case of Norma Jean Serena.”

[23] “Sterilization Abuse: A Task for the Women’s Movement.”

[24] “Serena Wins Half-Battle,” Akwesasne Notes, late Winter 1979.

[25] “Serena Wins Half-Battle.”

[26] Government Accountability Office: 18

[27] Jach Cloherty and Bob Owens, “Indians Used as Guinea Pigs,” Trenton Evening Times, November 23, 1976.

[28] “Growing Fight Against Sterilization of Native Women,” Akwesasne Notes, Late Winter 1979.

[29] “Doctor Raps Sterilization of Indian Women.”

[30] Dr. Pinkerton-Uri is featured in the Akwesasne Notes’ “Growing Fight.”

[31] For more information about Native American populations in Los Angeles, please see Nicolas Rosenthal, Reimagining Indian Country: Native American Migration & Identity in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

[32] “The Theft of Life.”

[33] “Growing Fight.”

[34] Ibid.

[35] “Women Of All Red Nations (W.A.R.N.),” Akwesasne Notes, Late Winter 1978.

[36] Ibid.

[37] The Notes’ “W.A.R.N.” article stated: “In recent years, women have continued to carry out their roles as leaders within the Indian movement. Although the Western media focused on male leaders during the Wounded Knee occupation in 1973, people who experienced that occupation know that beyond the view of the television cameras and outside of the news conferences women played a crucial role in organizing, motivating, and supporting that action.” The Wounded Knee occupation lasted 71 days with approximately 200 American Indian Movement group members occupying the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. They gathered to protest federal abuse and corruption through failing to uphold various treaties with Native peoples. For more information, see B. D. Arcus, “Contested boundaries: native sovereignty and state power at Wounded Knee, 1973,” Political Geography 22, no 4 (2003): 415-437.

[38] “W.A.R.N.”

[39] Helen Holmes, Betty B. Hoskins, and Michael Gross, “Preface,” in Birth Control and Controlling Birth: Women Centered Perspectives, (Clifton, New Jersey: The Humana Press Inc, 1980): ix.

[40] Katsi Cook, “A Native American Response,” in Birth Control and Controlling Birth: Women Centered Perspectives, ed. Helen Holmes, Betty B. Hoskins, and Michael Gross (Clifton, New Jersey: The Humana Press Inc., 1980): 252.

[41] Cook, 253.

[42] Holmes, Helen, Betty B. Hoskins, and Michael Gross, ix.

[43] “Sterilization: What Are Your Rights,” Akwesasne Notes, Autumn 1980.

[44] In addition to the rights listed in this project, the Notes’ “Sterilization” article also included the right to information about other methods of birth control, the right to information in a requested language, the right to a witness for signing the consent form, and the right to a 30-day waiting period between consent and the operation. The article also notes abusive practices, including threats to removing children and sterilization without informed and voluntary consent. These are in accordance with the federal guidelines, see Evanoff.

[45] Brint Dillingham, “Indian Women and IHS Sterilization Practices,” American Indian Journal 3, no. 1 (January 1977): 27-28.

[46] Dillingham, “Indian Women,” 27.

[47] Brint Dillingham, “Sterilization: A Conference and a Report,” American Indian Journal 4, no. 4 (January 1978): 13-16. Dillingham referred to a sterilization abuse conference held by the National Council of Church’s Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization.

[48] Dillingham, “Sterilization,” 13.

[49] Carpio, 42. Parentheses appear in original.

[50] “Keep Us Strong!,” Akwesasne Notes, early Winter 1974.