the late 1990s, Shoshone women began to perform once again a ritual
dance of female strength and resourcefulness that they had not
celebrated since the 1930s, following decades of forced removal
from ancient lands, crushing poverty, loss and disease, when their
people were forced off their ancient lands.
Native American women are sharing another celebration of themselves.
time, it's the arrival of a health book, "Indigenous Women's
Health Book, Within the Sacred Circle." The book, written and
edited by indigenous women, encourages its readers to become active
participants in their own health care. It is causing the same kind
of splash that "Our Bodies, Ourselves" did in the mainstream
United States back in 1969.
books are flying out the door," says Charon Asetoyer, a member
of the Comanche Nation and the executive director of the Native
American Women's Health Education Resource Center in Lake Andes,
S.D., which runs a food pantry, a battered women's shelter and offers
health information to women.
first edition of only 1,500 copies of the 322-page anthology was
published and announced late last year to Native American news outlets
by the nonprofit, indigenous-led Center.
despite limited publicity, the compendium of detailed guidance on
everything from contraception to domestic violence to traditional
herbal remedies is headed for a second and possibly third printing.
Outreach Bypassed Reservations
"I've been fortunate to experience wisdom from the Boston Women's
Health Book Collective and 'Our Bodies, Ourselves,'" said Katrina
Maczen-Cantrell, a Shoshone health activist with Women's Health
Specialists, a feminist women's health center in Redding, Calif.
But she adds that it was seen by few women on reservations. "Native
American women were often overlooked, there wasn't a lot of outreach,"
an important, much needed book," says Judy Norsigian, executive
director and a founder of the Boston-based collective Our Bodies
Ourselves. "Just as those of us in the women's health movement
were happy to see health books by black and by Latina women, it
is wonderful to at last see a book like this geared to the health
concerns of Native American women."
Mason Boring, a Shoshone registered family counselor in Colville,
Wash., helps explain the significance of the self-help medical book
by talking about two Chickasaw sisters she knew when she was growing
up. The women had been girls in the 1920s.
the sisters taught all of their lives and never had children because
they had been sterilized in Bureau of Indian Affairs Schools,"
she says. "They were both lovely and lived to be quite old
and few people knew what they had endured."
in the late 19th century, Native American women suffered not only
forced marches to reservations, but also the "Save the Babies"
campaign of 1912-1918. During that era, federal agents took children
from their homes, judging the impoverished women unfit for "scientific
studies revealed that the Indian Health Service sterilized between
25 and 50 percent of Native American women between 1970 and 1976,"
Jane Lawrence wrote in the Summer 2000 issue of the American Indian
Quarterly. Complaints led to a 1976 General Accounting Office investigation,
which documented widespread violations including inadequate consent
and the sterilization of minors.
Against Sterilization Practices
Two years before that investigation, in 1974, indigenous women protested
sterilization practices at federal hospitals on at least four reservations
where uninformed women, including minors, had been deceived into
consenting to the surgery.
1985, other women on the Yankton Sioux reservation in South Dakota
gathered to fight another type of health assault on their community:
fetal alcohol syndrome. It was that effort, in fact, that led Asetoyer
to establish the Native American Women's Health Education Resource
Center, the book's publisher.
the book's co-editor, says Native American women need to further
develop their sense of right to proper health care. She said throughout
her 18 years at the center, indigenous women regularly reported
inappropriate contraceptive care, such as federal personnel urging
them to undergo tubal ligation (sterilization) well before age 30
or failing to tell them its effect is permanent.
documented and undocumented reproductive rights violations committed
against Indigenous women fuel the fire for the reproductive health
and rights organizing done by the Resource Center," she writes
in the book's introduction. "It is that same fuel that gives
birth to this book."
Asetoyer edited the book along with two women's center colleagues,
Dr. Katharine Cronk, a pharmacologist and neuroscientist working
as a health advocate at the center, and Samanthi Hewakapuge, a librarian
and information specialist.
Women's Advocacy Skills
"What we're trying to do is provide information so women have
it at their fingertips, whether they're an individual or working
in a health program, to help build advocacy skills for women so
they aren't such passive players in the examining room," Asetoyer
the book's indigenous authors: Sarah Littlecrow-Russell (Anishaabe),
a family law attorney and health activist in Amherst, Mass., wrote
on Native American nutrition and weight loss, including recommendations
of eating traditional foods such as wild turnips, yams and chokecherries;
Willy Dolphus (Cheyenne River Sioux), a Cheyenne River Reservation-based
victim advocate with the South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic
Abuse and Sexual Assault, reported on domestic violence, noting
such acts were traditionally rare and severely sanctioned in Native
American culture before European settlement of the country; Austin,
Texas-based midwife Patricia Ann Salas (Chicana-Coahuilteca) detailed
midwifery and how traditional midwives helped maintain the emotional
and mental stability of the mother throughout pregnancy.
a chapter on smoking, contributor Renee Bartocquteh (Eastern Band
Tsalagi, North Carolina) wrote that pure tobacco was harvested traditionally
for religious and medicinal purposes and never intended for daily
or recreational use. Now, according to a Jan. 31 report by the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of Native Americans
and Alaska natives smoke, the highest percentage of U.S. ethnic
groups surveyed from 1999 to 2001. The chapter says Native American
women start smoking earlier than other ethnic groups.
is all about addressing barriers, whether it's what a birth control
method offers you or doesn't offer you, where online resources are
to help you," says Maczen-Cantrell. "There's a beautiful
chapter dedicated to traditional knowledge, herbs and healing wisdom,
and all of those combined really help build up a woman's confidence
in herself, in her life. I have a daughter, and three nieces. I
look at them and think, 'this is perfect.'"
Batchelor has written on health and medicine for Medscape, CBS Healthwatch
and the Texas Medical Association's "Healthline Texas,"
and for the national science series "Earth and Sky."
Native American Women's Health
Education Resource Center: