Morningstar Mercredi, pictured on Friday November 16, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

‘There has to be accountability’: victims of sterilization demand action

Morningstar Mercredi says she woke up from a surgery at 14 and immediately broke down when she discovered the baby she once felt inside of her was gone.

Morningstar Mercredi says she woke up from surgery at 14 and immediately broke down when she discovered the baby she had felt inside her was gone.

What remained was an incision from her panty line to her belly button, cut without her permission.

She would eventually learn her left ovary and a Fallopian tube had been removed, too — an experience that “irrevocably” changed her life.

“How in God’s name could that be when I was just a child?” the Indigenous author said in an interview.

Mercredi is among a growing number of Indigenous women insisting on action to address the ongoing practice of coerced sterilization — the subject of discussions in Geneva this week at the UN Committee Against Torture.

Representatives from Canada were asked on Wednesday what the government is doing about it. The delegation is to respond Thursday.

The prevalence of the practice today has not been documented but Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Sen. Yvonne Boyer and the federal NDP are calling for investigations of recent reports from Indigenous women in Canada.

“We need to raise our voices,” Mercredi said. “We need to do whatever we have to do to hold those people that are responsible accountable if we want this to stop.”

In the mid-1970s, Mercredi said, she endured a rape in Fort McMurray, south of her community of Fort Chipewyan, Alta., and was pregnant.

Resisting pressure in Fort Chipewyan to have an abortion, armed with a bus ticket and a few dollars, she headed to Saskatoon for refuge.

“I wanted to be somewhere else in order to have this baby,” she said.

Read more: Examine ‘monstrous’ allegations of forced sterilization of Indigenous women: NDP

Read more: Event planned to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women in Keremeos

Wearing worn-out old running shoes one day, she slipped on ice and started spotting, so she went to an emergency room.

Mercredi said she asked what was happening prior to surgery, only to be dismissed.

“I wanted to know how my baby was and what was going on with me,” she said. “The doctor performed surgery on me and when I awoke, I had no baby and what the doctor told me — I don’t know why but I will never forget this — he said, ‘Your chances of getting pregnant will be less than that of the average woman.’ “

What happened to her, without an explanation or consent from her or her parents, had devastating consequences. Mercredi tried to take her own life six months after the procedure in Saskatoon and struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction for about five years as a young woman.

She’s been sober now for 32 years.

“Absolutely the substance abuse was linked to my suicidal depression and the trauma of that event,” she said. “I went on from — my life from that point on making choices that were shame-based.”

Mercredi said she can’t imagine how many other Indigenous women have gone through similar experiences.

Some did not survive them. Pam, who does not want to use her last name for fear of further harming her family, said her daughter did not. She died by suicide 10 months after a tubal ligation at a Winnipeg hospital in 2009.

Pam said her daughter believed having the procedure would result in getting her other children back, out of foster care.

“I guess I can say she was bullied to death,” Pam said. She’s obtained medical records to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the procedure and the involvement of child-welfare workers.

There could have been a different outcome for Pam’s daughter, said Cora Morgan, a family advocate with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

People who’ve allowed these procedures, or carried them out, must be held accountable, and future instances prevented, she said.

Morgan said she’s heard several stories from Indigenous women who also say they were encouraged to abort pregnancies because they had other children in foster care.

“Their social worker is giving them instructions to abort their baby in exchange for being able to get their children back or get more access to their children,” Morgan said. “They’re basically blackmailing women into having abortions.”

Morgan believes more Indigenous women would come forward to share their stories if they had a formal outlet, a place to tell them.

For her part, Mercredi said she repressed her own story for four decades until she heard a radio broadcast featuring women from the Saskatoon Health Region who said they had been coerced into sterilizations.

About 60 women have now joined a proposed class action lawsuit led by Maurice Law, an Indigenous-owned national law firm, that lists the government of Saskatchewan, the Saskatoon Health Authority, the federal government and medical professionals as defendants in its statement of claim.

Alisa Lombard, an associate with the firm, said that since The Canadian Press published a story about the issue last week, her practice has heard from more than 32 women who also say they were sterilized without their consent.

“I think that it is troubling that everyone would not be as concerned as some of us are and committed to making sure that vulnerable women, at their most vulnerable, wouldn’t have the very basic, standard protection that most people take for granted,” Lombard said Wednesday.

At 55, Mercredi said, she’s now strong enough to fight for her 14-year-old self who had no one.

She also hopes Indigenous women who have endured the trauma of sterilization will not isolate themselves in anguish.

“Put your tobacco down,” she said. “The ancestors are with us. Grandmothers are with us and it is time for us now.”

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wet’suwet’en herreditary chiefs meet with provincial, federal ministers

Neither party speaking on the groundwork laid for tomorrow’s talks

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs optimistic ahead of talks

Discussions with provincial and federal governments expected to start later today

‘The project is proceeding’: Horgan not backing down from support of Coastal GasLink

B.C. premier speaks as talks scheduled with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs

Coastal GasLink agrees to two-day pause of pipeline construction in Morice River area

Work will stop once Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs begin talks with province and feds

RCMP cease patrols on Morice West Service Road

Withdrawal opens door for talks today between hereditary chiefs, province and federal gov

Clothing, jewelry, purses: RCMP ask court about disposal of evidence in Robert Pickton case

Pickton was sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 25 years for the murders of six women

Ryan nets hat trick in return as Senators beat Canucks 5-2

Ottawa winger received assistance for admitted alcohol problem

Speaker ‘will not tolerate illegal activity’ on B.C. legislature grounds, says chief of staff

Chief of staff to the B.C. speaker Alan Mullen says situation with demonstrators appears ‘fluid’

MPs to examine privacy implications of facial-recognition technology used by RCMP

The MPs will look at how the technology affects the privacy, security and safety of children

Dates back to 2009: Calgary police lay charges in fraud involving semi-trucks

Three people from Calgary are facing charges that include fraud over $5,000

BREAKING: Kelowna RCMP to further investigate 12 sexual assault cases, create sexual assault unit

Recommendations come five months after it was revealed 40% of sexual assaults were deemed ‘unfounded’

Explicit Greta sticker linked to Alberta company draws outrage

The sticker includes the logo of Red Deer-based X-Site Energy Services

Share Now, formerly Car2Go, leaves Canada with valuable data in changing market: expert

Vancouver was its largest market in North America, with more than 300,000 customers

Most Read