August 2020

Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

Wednesday, 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."

Santa arrested at Elsipogtog fracking protest!

Santa Jean Sock arrested on Hwy 11 on Wednesday.

Navajo Uranium Film Festival Day 3 Videos

Live streaming video by Ustream
Click arrow to watch livestream!

The International Uranium Film Festival is underway, Navajo Nation Museum, Dec. 2 -- 4, 2013

Watch videos of discussion sessions at Navajo Museum:

Mohawk John Kane 'Redskin Code Talkers?'

Navajo Code Talkers
By John Kane, Mohawk

To avoid arguments in the White world it is said to avoid talking about religion or politics. We may not have the same taboos against these general topics in Native communities but, certainly, there are two other subjects that most regard as off limits for criticism — elders and veterans and, especially if they are both.
Well, so here I go.
In the midst of National Native American Heritage Month — or as I call it our “special month” — and the continuing debacle over Native mascots and team names, the worst being the Washington, D.C. NFL team, we all got to experience a collective moment of cringe. The NFL and D.C. team owner Dan Snyder decided that it was somehow appropriate to dig up a couple of elderly Navajo Code Talkers, fly them to D.C., wrap them up in “Redskins” jackets and parade them onto the football field as the “49ers” beat up on the “Redskins” (I might add there’s a little irony there, too).
The sleaziness of taking advantage of these much-heralded figures in American history and
folklore was certainly not missed by anyone. In fact, I agree with all the criticisms lodged against this publicity stunt.
But here is where I am asking for trouble.
What about the Code Talkers? What were they thinking?
Unlike so many across our vast lands, I am not so prone to heap adulation on every Native who enlisted in military service to the U.S. or Canada. It’s ironic to me — and it should be to you, too — that at the dawn of the 20th century it somehow became okay for our people to change sides. After a century of bloody conflicts, massacres, hangings, land theft, prisons and concentration camps/reservations, fraud and outright war, slipping into the uniforms of our enemies became fashionable. Today, it has been drummed into our heads that our enlistment rates are the highest per capita of any “ethnic” population and that we should be proud of this fact. Whether this is borne out of the residential/boarding school era, conversion to Christianity or a general “if you can beat them, join them” mentality or some desperate hope for acceptance…well, I’ll leave these theories for those with a whole lot of letters after their names to debate. But there is little question that throughout the 20th century our people began to buy into American patriotism.
In addition to the irony of Natives serving in the U.S. military, there’s an even higher level of irony associated with the Code Talkers. Consider this — take a people who were having their languages and identities destroyed by active government policy at a level that meets the standard for genocide. Here come some military analysts struggling to develop secretive communications in WWII with a great idea — “Hey Joe, do you think we still have any of those savages running around speaking that gibberish we been trying to beat out of them for all these years?” How opportune to “find” a collection of sophisticated languages that no one else knows. The greatest irony lies in the fact that these languages were actively being destroyed and there was virtually no written record of them. What a great idea!
What developed was the Native Code Talker Program. Grab up or otherwise convince some “Injuns” who still speak their languages to put on a U.S. uniform, put some in the field with radios and never — and I repeat never — let them be captured alive. Bingo! The U.S. has an unbreakable code.
Now don’t for a second think that this interest in our languages or our people would change the U.S. or Canadian policies of trying to destroy them or us. No, this was an opportunistic exploitation and appropriation of something that was ours for their use. While many praise this and take pride that we had something they needed, I just shake my head and think, yeah, like our land, our resources and even that gold the real 49ers were chasing after.
I don’t begrudge Code Talkers or any of our people who enlist. I have many friends and relatives who not only enlisted but also served in active duty with honor and distinction. But they weren’t fighting or enlisting for me or for Native communities. Perhaps their personal choices to fight for the good ole U.S.A. did involve some sense of representing Native people as noble or as “freedom fighters” but these military complexes aren’t about freedom or democracy. They are about defending national interests and the corporations with a stake in them, even back in the 40s.
The use of these young men and our language may have served a greater good in the eyes of many but, nonetheless, it was an exploitation of very young men and our Native languages.
Those men are not so young now. In fact, most are gone. In recent years, the Code Talkers have been held up as “American Heroes” and have earned medals and honors along the way. In a twisted attempt to take advantage of our “special month,” the professional sports franchise at the center of the team name and mascot debate decided to “honor” four Navajo Code Talkers in a much-derided ceremony.
My question to these men and their families is why did they go? Why allow this exploitation? Perhaps the exploitation of these men when they were young, the very thing that made them famous, is justified, but being used as young men is one thing. The actions of those with a lifetime behind them are quite another. We can’t simply cry foul about how they were used as if these guys were incapable of understanding the situation. We can’t cherish the wisdom of these elders on one hand and then on the other hand suggest that they were somehow oblivious to the message they were sending, especially when a few decided to offer their unsolicited support for the “Redskins,” suggesting as Dan Snyder has that it's some sort of term of endearment.
I wrestle with the whole idea of honoring Native veterans of U.S. and Canadian military service as “Warriors.” And whether these guys believe it’s okay or not, I refuse to honor them as “Redskins.”

– John Karhiio Kane, Mohawk, a national expert commentator on Native American issues, hosts “Let’s Talk Native…with John Kane,” ESPN-AM 1520 in Buffalo, Sundays, 9-11 p.m. Eastern Time. He is a frequent guest on WGRZ-TV’s (NBC/Buffalo) “2 Sides” and “The Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter” in Albany. John’s “Native Pride” blog can be found at He also has a very active "Let's Talk Native...with John Kane" group page on Facebook.

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