DECOLONIZING YOUR NEWSFEED
DISCLAIMER: This edition of Indigenously contains details about legacy violence on Indigenous women as well as
pro-choice views about abortion. If I lose your readership because of my open defense of Roe v. Wade, a law I've benefitted from, I'm sorry to see you go. 💜
Those who have even a base-level understanding of reproductive rights across Indian Country will know that the Supreme Court's draft opinion in the case of Dobbs. v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is not the worst case scenario for what misogynistic lawmaking can do to a women’s
body. The year my mother began working as an ICU nurse at the Indian Hospital in Claremore, Oklahoma, coercive sterilizations were happening in the obstetrics unit on Native women giving childbirth. It was in the 1970s and, as we now know, an investigation by Native rights advocates, including Dr. Connie
Pinkerton-Uri (Choctaw/Cherokee), revealed that many of these women were given tubal ligations without their consent or knowledge. And so, when I learned about the Dobbs opinion which was leaked to Politico on Monday - like a lot of people, I was disturbed by the news, but I wasn’t surprised. And not because Justice Samuel Alito, across his sixteen years on the bench, had written the draft with such vitriol. (He called abortions “egregiously wrong.”) Rather, for
Indigenous women, such patriarchal authoritarianism - to be sure, a war on women - is what has always lived at the crossroads of what happens to us; to our wombs, our disappearances, our murders, and ironically, our stolen children.
The leak about the presumed reversal of Roe couldn’t be more dubiously timed. Not only does this weekend mark Mother’s Day, but for Indian Country, the news set a dull tone for the National Missing or Murdered Indigenous
Persons Awareness Day held May 5. Since 2018, the White House has observed this day as part of a movement that has been building for decades. In Canada, attention paid to the chronic rate at which Indigenous women and girls, two-spirt and transgendered people are disappeared or are killed has been embedded in national politics for nearly a decade. But on this day of remembering our women lost to violence, there is little attention paid to the reproductive rights of Native
If Alito’s majority draft opinion holds, Dobbs will turn the tables on abortion in Indian Country in ways that could be tragic for Native women. Of the thirteen states that could ban abortions immediately, eight are home to some of the highest populations of Native women. In
the Dakotas and Oklahoma, representing 52 tribes combined, it’s already hard enough being Native and female. Indigenous women die from gun violence in Oklahoma more than any other group next to Black women. And in the Dakotas - often called the “Selma of the North” - poverty is higher on reservations than any other counties in the U.S. The average life expectancy of Native women in North and South
Dakota is 55, about 25 years behind the national average. Add to this, the backdrop that it was only 15 years ago that South Dakota banned abortions for a short run in 2006. And if that wasn’t jarring enough, an all male Oglala Nation Tribal Council on the Pine Ridge Reservation
followed suit. Again, these patriarchal hurdles are nothing new for Native women.
A great irony for reversing Roe is Louisiana. After the draft was leaked, state legislators advanced a bill that would not only ban virtually all abortions, but would define them as homicides. Watching the unwinding take shape, as Native women nationwide dressed in red ribbon skirts,
pounded on drums, and sang songs for those killed by unspeakable violence, often with impunity, presented a twisted reasoning on how some people value life. Just juxtapose those whose murder cases turn ice cold within weeks and lasting for decades, like Sophie Sergie’s in Fairbanks, against the biology of a fetus yet formed.
Sixteen states have laws protecting abortion rights. My home state, New Mexico is one of them, where this year, Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham signed into law two pieces of legislation that will establish a “Missing and Murdered” liaison within the State Attorney General’s Office among other dedicated resources to crack cold cases. This should be cold comfort for the Indigenous women who live there - that is for those who can afford such medial care. As one of the poorest states in the country with one
of largest Indigenous populations, New Mexico is by no means an easy path for Native women seeking reproductive healthcare, despite access to several IHS hospitals and clinics.
A recent under-researched Harvard Law Review article worked to make the case that Indian Country’s unique jurisdictional framework, meaning its separation from states, perhaps offered a
doorway to solving the reversal of Roe. But the anonymous authors failed to take into account the 1976 Hyde Amendment which, to this day, limits what kind of reproductive care Native women can receive because of the federal funding factor. IHS facilities, for the most part, function almost entirely from what is budgeted by the Department of Health and Human Services. Though when the Hyde Amendment was somewhat relaxed in 1997, it did allow for abortions in certain cases:
rape, incest, or when a women’s life is at risk. But such terminations of pregnancy were rarely performed; on average, one a year. Today, most Native women who choose abortion are likely to seek such care someplace other than reservation-based healthcare facilities - and that’s if they can afford it.
For fifty years, Roe v. Wade has held because most Americans, then as now, believe that women and men should have control over their own bodies. But to hear Alito tell it, such control so fundamental to human identity, has no protection under the Constitution only because it is not
perfectly spelled out. Because of the precedent Dobbs could set, there are fears that it could pave a legal pathway to restricting forms of contraception that have become widely available - options such as the morning-after pill, among others.
The hurdles for Native women are already so great. Just graduating from high school for some teenagers, as I saw this week in the North Arctic, is a big deal - no wait, a HUGE deal. It’s why it’s so dispiriting to think that young ladies might have to enter a battle that was over and won for
women when I was their age.
I leave you with only one link for further illumination this week, a film featuring Cecelia Fire Thunder, the Lakota nurse who became the first women to lead the Oglala Nation only to be impeached because - abortion rights. She wanted to
build a Planned Parenthood on the rez. Talk about a badass. I interviewed her many times when she reigned during my radio days and I never knew what to do with all of my great tape at the end of the day. So glad someone made a film about her: “Young Lakota” (2013)
Also, a quick reminder to take care of yourself. The news cycle has been pretty heavy lately, and it’ll bear more weight - so find time to disconnect. Since returning to the far north, I’ve been spending a lot of time at kitchen tables, visiting and eating a lot of yummy
Native foods like whale blubber, beluga flipper, speckled duck, and sheefish. And having this little friend around has also helped take the edge off.
On that note, I’m dealing with slow Internet again which may be affecting what I can produce with this newsletter. For instance, getting this latest edition out required a total reliance on my iPhone hotspot - so, it’s like wading through molasses at times, especially when trying
to crunch data and upload media. Let’s see how it goes in the coming weeks. Til then, call your mom, and if that’s not possible, send gratitude in whatever way is yours. 🌸
REPUBLISHED FROM PLANNED PARENTHOOD
prohibiting abortion sent providers and patients into the shadows. By 1965, illegal abortions made up one-sixth of all pregnancy-related deaths in the United States — and that’s just according to official
reports. Doctors think the actual number of deaths from illegal abortion was a lot higher. Attempts to prohibit abortion particularly hurt people with low incomes: A survey conducted in the 1960s found that among women with low incomes in New York City who had an abortion, eight in 10 attempted a dangerous, self-induced procedure.
The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling on January 22, 1973, not only gave people the right to access
abortion legally all across the country — it also prevented many deaths from unsafe, illegal abortions.
Abortion is common and accepted — and the data proves it.
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"I look forward to reading what you have to say every time I see you in my inbox!"
Sam, Boston, MA
Thanks, Sam, for reaching out after last week's newsletter focused on Language + Land where we highlighted the International Decade of Indigenous Languages that officially kicked off Monday. Sam also kindly sent along two podcasts field produced from
Alaska Native communities - one about Molly of Denali and the other about preserving the Lingit language. Enjoy!
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