By Julia Magsombol
Local Journalism Initiative
In this century, forced sterilization in Canada is no longer in effect, but there have been recent reports of sterilization in some places, according to the President of Women of the Métis Nation.
“It’s still ongoing,” said Melanie Omeniho. “Our women have been impacted by this, and in many instances, are not even aware that they’ve been impacted by it.”
Omeniho stated that Indigenous women represent Mother Earth, and they bring life. They are sacred and powerful beings. However, this concept has been disrupted because of coerced sterilization.
It refers to the practice of sterilizing Indigenous women without informed consent. The Sexual Sterilization Act was in effect or passed in British Columbia in 1933, ending in 1973.
Under the Act, a board of Eugenics, people who aim to improve the human population through breeding, believed that Indigenous women should undergo genetic editing and screen fetuses for disabilities. However, in one study, it was concluded that racism and sexism were the result of this coerced sterilization and perpetuated violence against Indigenous women and girls.
Based on the studies of the Women of the Métis Nation, this forced sterilization has been a targeted practice in Canada that is rooted in colonialism.
Women of the Métis Nation and Omeniho have been working diligently to raise awareness of this issue.
“The work that we’ve done is to develop and create awareness amongst Métis women so that they have an understanding of their right to their bodies and the right to have free choice, which are the same rights that everybody else in this country takes for granted, which isn’t always available for Indigenous women,” Omeniho explained. “And we’ve also been, in the meantime, advocating and lobbying the government, if there needs to be consequences for medical people that do this, and that there should even be criminal charges against people that take these kinds of actions.”
Unfortunately, although forced sterilization has ended, it did not end for some hospitals and clinics.
In November 2019, it was reported that Dr. Andrew Kotaska, a former clinical director of obstetrics at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife, removed the left fallopian tube of a 37-year-old Indigenous woman during her surgery. The woman consented in writing only to have her right fallopian tube and ovary removed. The patient filed a civil lawsuit against Kotaska and the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority in April 2021. For more information, read:https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/nwt-doctor-complaint-ruling-1.6298184
Omeniho also mentioned a recent allegation of forced sterilization in 2022 and early 2023 in Quebec. A lawsuit was filed Aug. 21 regarding two doctors identified as R.M. and Y.B., and from the estate of a third, M.T. All three of whom the plaintiffs say committed coerced sterilization.
The plaintiffs gave birth five times in the hospital and were allegedly given tubal ligations after their fifth births. They denied having consented to these sterilizations.
For more information, read: https://montreal.ctvnews.ca/quebec-court-authorizes-class-action-over-alleged-sterilization-of-indigenous-women-1.6529550
“They shouldn’t be doing this, it’s a further genocide of Indigenous women, just like missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls,” said Omeniho.
Omeniho added that the Women of the Métis Nation also support the healing of women who’ve been impacted by death. She met some of the victims.
“Some of them are very, very hurt. Some are very strong advocates and allies trying to educate young Indigenous women about their rights. But some of them are still suffering and are angry over what has happened to them and that the issues and decisions taken out of their hands are impacting their lives …. for the rest of their lives. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the healing,” she said.
Omeniho added that these women feel their stories aren’t being heard. Sadly, she also explained that many Indigenous women are going up against medical professions around the world. The fact is racism exists in the Canadian healthcare system which is difficult to combat.
She mentioned that she’s glad these issues are starting to come to light, but it’s heartbreaking to hear this kind of news. “I am crushed because they’re hurting,” she lamented.
This challenging situation has impacted Omeniho in many ways. She noted that her great-grandmother is a midwife and she’s proud of her for helping many Indigenous women give birth in the past. And now that she’s in a more civilized and developed society, it’s heartbreaking to see many women suffer in these painful circumstances.
“I’m sitting here watching women who are being challenged, and even how women are being treated medically, to find support. It has impacted me. I have three daughters. I have two grand-daughters. I come from a large line of Métis matriarchs. And it offends me that those privileges that other communities seem to have and take for granted are taken away from these very women.” she added.
What’s upsetting is that the government has compensated the victims with money, but this is not enough for these women, Omeniho pointed out.
“What they’ve done is not going to repair or be enough money to heal them,” she said.
Regarding these recent allegations, it hasn’t been decided what will happen to these doctors. But Omeniho believes that they should be punished and they should give compensation to their victims.
“Indigenous people are resilient. No matter what, we’re still here. We’re still moving forward, and we’re not going away. We are strong; we are resilient.” She added that people need to listen to women and let them tell their stories.
“I hope people stop treating Indigenous women like they’re a part of a disposable society. That’s what I learned. That’s what my hopes and dreams are. I hope that my granddaughters and great-granddaughters and the future generations behind me won’t have to go through the same issues we’ve dealt with in our lifetime.”
Omeniho stressed that we have to give these women the power to move forward and heal from all of this.
For more information, visit: https://metiswomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Forced-Sterilization-Report.pdf