The speaker series which occurred two nights ago centered on the subjects of medical practices and midwifery and how the counterculture interacted with these two fields. At some point in the evening it became starkly clear to me (as often it does) that there was a gaping hole in our conversation: the Native community. The conversation had been circling around the question of choice, namely the choice to have a caesarian or vaginal birth (or as was also failed to mention the choice to adopt or even to not have children). The midwifes in the room adamantly spoke against caesarian births from the position that they were linked to higher infant mortality rates but also also more passionately from the personal belief that vaginal births were the more spiritually potent method for a mother to connect with their child. I found it slightly ironic that one of the midwifes had mentioned “the business of birth” because I wondered how much of their defensive nature came from a need to maintain their financial security —though that was probably a secondary reason, the first being rather conservative views of womanhood or authentic way to be a woman… which I frankly find to be bullshit.
Beyond direct issues of gender, I found the midwife position frustrating because it seemed obvious that only certain privileged women can choose to have a home-birth through midwives and perhaps only privileged women who would find home-birth appealing seeing as how other peoples and communities have been having home-births with or without midwives who were or were not trained for a very long time. Which makes midwifery an obvious appendage of the back to nature movement which seemed largely based in playing indian. This is what seemed to me the grand irony: as hippie women got to choose to return to their view of some pristine spiritually connected method of giving birth at the same time the native women they might have wished to be were being robbed of their right to give birth.
Seeing as up to this point not one mentioned had been made about the Native communities, I made a comment about sterilization programs mobilized against Native women and would now like to elaborate a bit on the issue and lead people where to find further information on the issue. I first learned about the extensive sterilization programs, which were at their peak in the early 70’s and finally ended in the late 80’s, from Andrea Smith’s book “Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide.” While genocide is a fraught term for many people I do not hesitate to call the sterilization program a genocidal practice. There are estimates that 25% of native women were sterilized without consent. These operations were often performed directly after birth without consent or after abortions in which doctors withheld any sort of pain reliever or anesthesia although native women were disproportionately encouraged to have abortions. Also considering the adorned birth control pack we found in the trash pit I find it important to mention how birth control was used against native women as a way not to give them further freedom but further rob them of any sort of choice regarding their bodies. Andrea Smith also details this in her book specifically how birth control akin to a more archaic nuva ring (which is inserted into the body and must be removed to avoid health problems) was administered for free to Native women but when the time came for women to have the birth control removed complications arose and many women could not find a doctor or nurse to have the procedure done. This lead to many harmful effects among them sterilization.
My conclusion from such issues are perhaps generic but it was startling clear that as I stated in my earlier blog post the appropriation of supposedly Native practices come from a privileged position of the ability for the colonial settlers to transcend whereas Native peoples are only repressed. While I was willing to take a gentler look at appropriation in my previous post, I think in some cases the appropriation of Native practices or the desire to play indian or get back to earth casts a shadow of ignorance over the actual state of Native communities and the genocidal practices mobilized against such communities. If the hippies of the past and earth-loving quasi-hippies of today were to play indian “authnetically” it would not be a very fun game… and perhaps if the movement had not been so self-centered awareness for issues in the Native communities could have entered the national consciousness as opposed to images of anglo-made teepees and barefooted ladies.
For more information on the issues of sterilization read the Smith book and check out this extensive well informed blog post : http://prettybirdwomanhouse.blogspot.com/2009/04/forced-sterilization-of-native-women.html