The Coerced Sterilization of Indigenous Women

Unlike in the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, Saskatchewan did not have an official government policy of sterilization.

Forced and coerced sterilization of Indigenous women is not well documented in Saskatchewan except into recent years, however, there is substantive evidence that it did/does occur. The justification used to normalize the use of coercive sterilization was that it was a preventative measure to ensure that women who were incapable of raising a dependent child, or women who had severe “mental or physical defects” could not give birth. It was argued that this would not only help to eradicate poverty, but it would also lessen the “financial burden” on the federal government because less Indigenous children would be born. Indigenous women were often not consulted before the operation was performed, and/or it was often completed when she was having a different operation done - once it was completed there was no way to reverse it. This took away agency from many Indigenous women because they were no longer in control of their reproductive decisions once this operation was completed.

There were two hospitals in Saskatchewan with documentation of sterilizations performed, one in Fort Qu’Appelle and the other in North Battleford. The documented sterilizations, however, do not account for all of the sterilizations performed in the province. There is evidence that suggests that the government was aware that unsanctioned and undocumented sterilizations of Indigenous women were taking place in Saskatchewan, meaning that the true number of coerced sterilizations will never be completely accurate.

Other Note

The term ‘eugenics’ is used to describe an ideology in which society is composed of unequal individuals who have evolved to different degrees in their biological, physical, and moral capacities. Eugenics rose to popularity in Canada in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries because of the mass amounts of immigration that were taking place during this period. The ideology of Eugenics suggested that the destitute conditions of the poor were the result of innate characteristics of those individuals. Because it was thought to be an innate characteristic, those who believed in eugenics thought that the simplest way to solve the problem of poverty was encourage the practice of selective breeding. In short, the poorest populations were believed to be in a poor social and economic position because of genetic factors, not because of an uneven distribution of wealth that characterized the political and economic system. To settler society and by no means truthful, It was ultimately the thought that being impoverished was a genetic factor, coupled with the 'unwillingness of Indigenous peoples to rise to a higher level of civilization' according to the government that sparked the idea to use sterilization as a means of control. By subscribing to an ideology of eugenics it allowed the upper classes to benefit from the exploitation of Indigenous lands, resources and labour while preventing Indigenous populations to grow.

Coerced and involuntary sterilizations continue to happen today in Saskatchewan, whether they are reported or not. The most recently known forced sterilization occurred in 2018 but many go unreported publicly, and hospital behaviour remains largely unchecked as the problem stems from an undervaluing of Indigenous life and a lack of respect for bodily autonomy. The sterilization of Indigenous women has been used as a tool of the state to carry out widescale eradication procedures that aimed to benefit European settlers as Indigenous land would become ‘available.’ These acts have been formally recognized as an act of Genocide in the report on MMIWG, but little has been done to address the continual harm.
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