Why It’s Important to Talk About Reproductive Justice on Indigenous Peoples’ Day
TW: sexual assault, genocide
Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It’s also two days after Brett Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh’s history of denying reproductive healthcare to women of color, coupled with today’s purpose of honoring indigenous communities, has me spending my day thinking about the ways that indigenous communities will be disproportionately impacted by Kavanaugh’s anti-women and anti-choice ideologies. All of my thoughts bring me back to one point: we need reproductive justice now because it is long overdue, especially for indigenous women and girls, trans, non-binary, and two-spirit people.
This may be the first time you’ve heard the term “reproductive justice” and you’re probably wonder what that means. Reproductive justice is an amazing framework created by Black women (shoutout to Loretta Ross) as a way to center women of color in the reproductive rights movement because, let’s get real here, this movement is dominated by cis-hetero white women. This framework is made up of three pillars: the right to parent, the right to not parent, and the right to raise children in safe and healthy environments. By this definition, colonization becomes a reproductive justice issue because it removes the ability of indigenous people to choose whether they want to parent or not and whether they can raise their children in safe and healthy environments.
Indigenous communities have been and still are fighting everyday for the right to raise children in safe and healthy environments. News flash! Genocide creates unsafe environments for people! Ever since that gross colonizer Columbus and his gross Spanish colonizer buddies came to this continent, indigenous people have had to fight against these people and their genocidal tactics to maintain bodily autonomy and their human right to plan their parenthood. Spanish colonizers made unsafe environments for children through acts like bringing deadly diseases, kidnapping people to put in human zoos, and forcing people into Catholic missions where indigenous people suffered all types of abuse.
Unfortunately, the fight for reproductive justice didn’t end with the Spaniards. Indigenous people have had to fight against the U.S. government–yet another colonizer–to maintain reproductive sovereignty. It would be impossible for me to list all the ways the U.S. government has created unsafe environments for indigenous families. There’s the Massacre at Wounded Knee, the mass hanging of indigenous people ordered by Abraham Lincoln (fun fact: he’s not actually this amazing liberator, contrary to what your history class may have taught you), the forced relocation of the Cherokee ordered by Andrew Jackson (also known as the Trail of Tears), the near-extinction of buffalo sanctioned by the U.S. Army, and the kidnapping of children to bring them to boarding schools where they experienced rampant sexual, physical, emotional, and psychological abuse.
And if you thought all of this was left in the past, you’re sorely mistaken. This fight for reproductive justice for indigenous peoples continues today. Remember the Dakota Access Pipeline? The struggle for clean water is undoubtedly a reproductive justice issue by fighting for healthy environments to raise children in–and that was only a few years ago (by the way, people are still fighting to protect their land from that pipeline). Need more recent examples? How about the fact that indigenous women and girls are disappearing and being murdered every day in the United States and Canada? What about the white man who will face no jail time for sexually assaulting an Alaskan Native woman? When indigenous women and girls have to live in fear of being kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and/or murdered, their reproductive freedom is taken away from them. You can’t choose to raise children in safe and healthy environments when you know that you may be taken away from your child and killed.
Indigenous women and girls, trans, non-binary, and two-spirit people bear the brunt of white supremacy, patriarchy, environmental racism, and all the other institutions that oppress people of color but, since they’re often viewed as “statistically insignificant” (thanks to genocide), their experiences are rarely elevated as much as the experiences of Black people, Latinx people, and other communities of color. This makes reproductive justice especially important and necessary for the liberation of all indigenous peoples. So, on this day, I urge non-Native people to speak up about these struggles. Attend a march. Donate to water protectors and bail them out of jail. Volunteer with organizations doing reproductive justice work (for Denver-based orgs, check out COLOR and Soul2Soul Sisters). Our liberation is bound together and the fight for reproductive liberation involves all of us.
P.S. Halloween is this month so here’s a friendly reminder to never dress up as an indigenous person. Native Americans aren’t a costume. Don’t f*cking do it.