Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

December 4, 2013

Dine' Jean Whitehorse: Bias and sterilization of American Indian women

Jean Whitehorse survived boarding school, urban relocation and the sterilization of American Indian women, and became stronger 

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News
French translation by Christine Prat
Dutch translation NAIS

SAN FRANCISCO -- Jean Whitehorse, Dine', speaking at the American Indian Movement's sixth annual West Coast Conference described how racist stereotypes and bias in children's books shape children at a young age.

Whitehorse also described the abuse she suffered in boarding school, when she was punished for speaking her own Dine' language. Further, she was a victim of the United States government's forced sterilization program of American Indian women, carried out by the Indian Health Service in the 1970s.

Whitehorse said it is important to examine the content of children's books for the stereotypes of American Indians, including cartoons, mascots and images like headdresses and teepees.

"We don't all wear feathers, we don't all live in teepees."

Stressing the need to begin educating children in the home before the age of three, she said, "It all starts before the age of three, if there's a negative word, they are going to repeat it."

Referring to stereotypes of Indians, she pointed out that each Indian Nation has their own language, traditions and culture and the people are teaching these to their own young children. During her presentation, she used as an illustration an inaccurate children's book that combined the specific traditions of Dine', Pueblo, and other Indian Nations as if they were all one in the same.

Whitehorse said she, like so many Native Americans, was punished for speaking her own Dine' language in boarding school. "If I talked in Navajo, I was punished."

She was taught to count with the stereotypical, "One little, two little, three little Indians ..." Today, she teaches her own great-granddaughter to count using this tune, but with the word "bilagaana" (white men) instead of "little Indians."

Today in the schools bias in children's books remains, including the words "squaw," and "papoose."

"We have come a long way," she said, pointing out that today many Navajos are lawyers, educators and doctors."

She said AIM West is about obtaining equal rights and "our voice being heard."

Whitehorse was sent here to the Bay Area at the age of 19 on relocation to Oakland. After four years, she decided it was time to go home to the Navajo Nation.

Whitehorse described how she was a victim of the United States government's forced sterilization of American Indian women in the 1970s. It was carried out by the Indian Health Service, and many times without the knowledge of Native American women.

"I was a victim of that after I had one daughter. I wish I had more children"

"There are a lot of Native American women out there who never had children because of this."

"Everything that the government put before me, I went over it. I just became stronger."

"Now I know who I am, I am teaching that to my daughter, my granddaughter and my great-granddaughter, because they are going to carry on the legends that we have as Native Americans."

"They will never suffer like we did."

Pointing out the stereotype of America's Thanksgiving, she said Americans need to learn the real history.

"We were here before anyone came, and we are still here, and we are here to stay."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Grandmother White Horse for telling it like it is.
I am not Native American myself, but I have a sister in law and several cousins who are. I have learned a lot from them and spend a lot of time fighting the stereotypes here in England where I live now.