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Reproductive Justice Program

Through the Reproductive Justice Program, NAWHERC works with a national, broad-based, and diverse coalition of Native American, women’s health, and civil liberties organizations to move forward an Agenda to protect our health and Human Rights. NAWHERC has brought to the forefront the issue of Indian Health Service’s lack of standardized sexual assault policies and protocols for sexual assault victims, documenting IHS's violations of Native women’s right to health care and pregnancy prevention services.

NAWHERC brings Native women together through the Roundtable process to document their voices concerning the impact of Federal Indian policy on their lives. By increasing awareness of government policies that affect the daily lives of Native women, NAWHERC uses activism to promote the voices of Native women at local, national, and international decision-making levels.

NAWHERC’s reports have been used by Congress, the U.N., the World Health Organization and university and policy institutes to bring awareness of the reproductive justice issues facing Indigenous women, and by Amnesty International’s Maze of Injustice report just released April 2007, which shows the failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence in the United States. NAWHERC’s work has resulted in policy changes such as improvements in informed consent, the provision of patients with results for abnormal pap tests and mammograms, treatment for HIV+ patients, patient confidentiality, and the discontinuation of Norplant.

In the News:
SisterSong Native Women's Reproductive Rights and Health Roundtable Convenes
Focus Group Details IHS Response to Reproductive Health Issues

Welcome to the Indigenous Women's Reproductive Justice and Pro-Choice Page!

The purpose of this page is to provide information concerning Indigenous women's reproductive health and their perspectives on pro-choice issues. Throughout history, Indigenous women have interacted with other Indigenous women through various women's societies. Traditionally, the matters pertaining to women were the business of women. All decisions concerning women's reproductive health were left up to the woman as an individual. Her decision was respected, and it was final. Oftentimes an Indigenous woman would turn to other women within her society for advice, mentoring, and assistance concerning reproductive health.

The aboriginal people of the North Central Plains lived in not only a democracy, but also a matrilineal society when Pierre Radisson, the first white person, visited the villages in 1654. The Native women enjoyed a life unknown to white women in Europe, being free to own their own homes, participate in decisions about their government, and have control of their bodies.

In the ensuing years, the People were herded onto reservations and today live in hostage status, suffering every deprivation and loss of freedom. Our grandparents were forcibly taken from their families and sent long distances to schools where the teachings and wisdom of thousands of years of our civilization were brainwashed out of our grandparents' generation. The insidious erosion of identity, culture, spirituality, language, scientific, technical knowledge, and power created the chaos and violence in which we, as women, struggle to survive and live a decent life. With the imposition of colonization and Christianity, foreign values, belief systems, and practices were forced upon our communities. Within those foreign systems, decisions pertaining to reproductive health were made by the Church with little regard to individual rights. Traditionally, reproductive health issues were decisions made by the individual, and were not thrusted into the political arena for any kind of scrutinization. The core of decision-making for the Indigenous woman is between her and the Great Spirit.

Within traditional societies and languages, there is no word that equals abortion. The word itself is very harsh and impersonal. When speaking to traditional Elders knowledgeable about reproductive health matters, repeatedly they would refer to a woman knowing which herbs and methods to use "to make her period come." This was seen as a woman taking care of herself and doing what was necessary. Oftentimes women would turn to the women within her society that were the keepers of those herbs, medicines, and techniques for assistance.

With knowledge and appreciation of our history, we fully realize our status in today's society, as we state our rights and aspirations as Native women.

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