Karen Stote working on second book investigating the coerced and forced sterilization of Indigenous women in Canada

Photo by Connor Johannes

Karen Stote, assistant professor in women and gender studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, released her first book, An Act of Genocide: Colonialism and the Sterilization of Aboriginal Women, in 2015. 

“It looks at the history of coerced sterilization roughly from the 1930s to the 1970s in a time period when eugenic legislation was being practiced in Alberta and British Columbia…the purpose of my work was to try and understand the extent to which Indigenous people were sterilized,” she said.

Stote found that Indigenous people were not just sterilized under eugenic legislation in those two provinces, but they were actually sterilized outside of that legislation in what are referred to as “Indian hospitals” across Canada.

“This research came out of relationships with Indigenous people, people who taught me in my undergrad and people that I knew who told me that coerced sterilization is something that happened to Indigenous people and in Indigenous communities and that it had a lot of history.”

She wrote about understanding the context of these sterilizations as a form of colonial violence and the unique implications around sterilization for Indigenous women.

“Since that book came out in 2015, over 100 Indigenous women have come forward with their own experiences of coerced sterilization,” Stote said. 

Many of these women are from Saskatchewan and the women who have come forward were all sterilized from the 1970s up until December 2018.  

Stote is now working on a second book where she is looking at Saskatchewan as a form of case study to understand the context of sterilizations for Indigenous women since the 1970s.

“There’s no longer eugenic legislation in place so a lot of what I’m looking at in Saskatchewan is trying to better understand the history of family planning policies.”

Birth control was decriminalized in 1969 in Canada, which made sterilizations more accessible. Since 1969, there have been a series of family planning policies that have been implemented. 

“This work is looking at family planning policies and practices in Saskatchewan since 1970.”

The health and child welfare systems are often involved and Stote’s upcoming book dissects how these policies have impacted Indigenous women and resulted in coerced sterilizations. 

Part of it will be a policy analysis and analyzing data to answer certain questions;

“What is the extent to which Indigenous women have been sterilized in Saskatchewan since 1970 up until as recently as 2019? What is the policy context? What does that look like in terms of the number of Indigenous women being sterilized? And how do those two inform each other in some way? These will help us understand women’s experiences of coerced sterilization.”

Stote explained that coerced sterilization is still happening in conjunction with other forms of colonial violence in Canada. 

She also emphasized the importance of hearing what Indigenous people themselves are saying in order to understand the progress towards justice and what more needs to be done. 

“If you pay attention to Indigenous people’s experiences and words, we still have a lot of work to do.”

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