Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

April 9, 2024

Dine' Jean Whitehorse -- Boarding School Abuse and Forced Sterilization

Jean Whitehorse, Dine', at AIM West. Photo by Brenda Norrell.

Dine' Jean Whitehorse: Speaks on Boarding School Abuse and Forced Sterilization at West Virginia University

By Brenda Norrell, Censored News, April 10, 2024

Jean Whitehorse, Dine', described the abuse in boarding school, and how she was a victim of forced sterilization by Indian Health Service. Jean's story, the story of countless Native women, was recorded for history at AIM West and was made into the film, 'Ama,' which will be shown at West Virginia University today.

Jean, Native American Studies Elder in Residence, will share her story and the film today.

Speaking at AIM West, Jean described how they washed her mouth out with lye soap  for speaking Dine' in boarding school, and how she was later a victim of the Indian Health Service's forced sterilization in Gallup, New Mexico.

It was the BIA relocation program, that transported her from Navajo land to the Bay Area, and she immediately asked to go home.

"The longer they kept me here, the more I got involved with the occupation. I learned about myself, people were talking on the island about what being Indian was, what it means, because in boarding school, we didn't learn about our history, we learned about everybody else, from Columbus on down."

"I learned about myself on Alcatraz, who I was, and to be proud of who you are," Jean said at AIM West in 2009. 

Jean described the Long Walk and Dine' imprisonment in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

"They were talking about moving the Navajo into Oklahoma Territory, they said that was the Indian reservation."

"We said we want to go home, we already have a home, we live between the Four Sacred Mountains, we have our rivers, we have our homes, some of our Clans are still there."

Jean shares her story during our broadcast at AIM West, read her story and watch the video at Censored News: 

Jean Whitehorse statement on Forced Sterilization to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous People, 2019

Join Navajo Elder-led discussion with Native American Studies

As part its Human Rights Film Series, the Native American Studies Program will host a film screening and discussion of “Amá” from 7-9 p.m. tomorrow (April 10) in Ming Hsieh Hall, Room G21 in Morgantown, West Virginia, and on Zoom. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

The film “Amá,” the Navajo word for mother, tells the important but little-known story of abuses committed against Native American women by the U.S. government during the 1960s and 1970s, including isolation and punishment at boarding schools, the failed American Indian urban relocation program and involuntary sterilization.

“Amá” is the product of nine years of sensitive, painstaking research by filmmaker Lorna Tucker, featuring testimony of three women who share their personal histories. One of these women, Jean Whitehorse (Navajo Nation), is this year’s Native American Studies Elder-in-Residence.

The audience will also hear excerpts from medical whistleblower Dr. Bernard Rosenfeld and a rare interview with population control scientist Dr. Reimert Ravenholt, whose work fed government policies to limit Native women’s reproductive options.

Whitehorse will head the discussion following the screening, and Bonnie Brown, Native American Studies Program coordinator, will serve as moderator.

The daughter of a Navajo code talker, Whitehorse attended government boarding schools, was part of the country’s Indian Urban Relocation program, and was active in the civil rights/native rights movement, including the Alcatraz Island occupation. She worked for New Mexico’s State Tribal Library Program for over 26 years before retiring. She has testified at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and shares her story at universities and conferences throughout the country.

Nicole Lim, of the Pomo tribe, is the executive director of The California Indian Museum and Cultural Center. She said “Amá” should be “watched by all who want to understand the impacts of genocide and colonization within the United States. Well into the 1970s, the federal government used tactics of persecution, extermination and denial in efforts to eradicate future generations of Native people. This film sheds light on the truth and illustrates the power of Native women in demonstrating resiliency and resistance."

The Human Rights Film Series is made possible by the WVU Community Human Rights Film Festival fund established by Morgantown residents Carol Howe Hamblen and Don Spencer.

Additional support is provided by partners throughout the University including the Department of English, Department of History, Department of Political Science, Department of World Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics, the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, Reed College of Media, WVU Humanities Center, Health Sciences Center Graduate Student Organization and Graduate Women Advocating Science.

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