Jan 3, 2014 - Let’s Talk About Sex, By Ruth Hopkins
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about who Native women are and what we should be, even within Native circles. While this is to be expected given our turbulent history of genocide and assimilation, it must end now.
As a Native woman, I’m fed up with the legacy of colonial patriarchy that is mainstream western society, and the lies it feeds our daughters and sons about us- namely in reference to female sexuality. These falsehoods and the reactions they cause, steeped in Christianity and brandished as genocidal weaponry by the progeny of manifest destiny, tell us to be ashamed of our bodies. They tell us that our Creator given drives and urges, our very anatomy and physiology, are sinful; as though our existence itself is something we should feel guilty about.
I submit to you that the attempted domination of Native female sexuality is purposeful. Why? Because we birth Nations. In order for the original assimilation and termination policies of the Federal government to be fulfilled, Native women must be ignorant of their sexuality and relinquish their creation-vested authority over their own reproductive organs to others. It boils down to control. If one controls female reproduction, one controls the people.
While modern efforts to stifle Native female sexuality are couched in rape culture and take place in the form of commercial propaganda, religious indoctrination and assimilative social norms, literal restraints on Native female reproduction are well known and documented. Besides encouraging intermarriage with colonial, patriarchal non-Natives during the assimilation era and the real time murder of mothers, children and infants committed in attempts to exterminate us and steal our lands and resources, thousands of Native women were sterilized without giving express consent well into the 1970s.
We’re still being lied to. Even in ancient times, we took care of our sexual health. Tribes had midwives too. Prior to European invasion, Native women recovered from childbirth quickly and newborn survival rates were relatively high, in comparison to non-Natives.
Our precolonial grandmothers were honorable women with self-respect, and for that reason, they were sexually responsible. While many of my grandfathers had more than one wife, the women were hardly submissive “Yes-women” who kept their heads down and did what they were told. They played leadership roles, selected their mates, and were free to divorce their husbands whenever they chose. Polygamy was more a practice of necessity; men with more than one wife had to provide for all his wives and children. In my Tribe, it also wasn’t uncommon for men to take in the widows of his brethren. This practice saved lives.
Traditionally, Native women engaged in family planning. Lithospermum ruderale(Stone seed), as well as Hydrastis canadensis (Yellow puccoon) and Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s Lace) seed were all used as methods of birth control. Stone seed root was drank as a tea. The root was also dried, burned and inhaled like incense. Queen Anne’s Lace seeds were made into a tea or eaten. After intercourse, women’s sage was used as a hygienic wash. Dioscorea villosa (Wild Yams) were eaten to boost reproduction, and are still believed to promote fertility. Bear grease was used as an aphrodisiac, and a lubricant.
Let’s not ignore the obvious: without reproduction, none of us would be here. Sexuality, housed in the ancient ‘reptilian’ portion of our primal brains, is hormonal and instinctual. It does us absolutely no good not to talk about it- in fact, it hurts us. We shouldn’t make the mistake of excluding any portion of us from the whole: just as we must care for ourselves mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, we should take care of ourselves sexually. It’s healthy. Part of why our ancient ancestors had good sexual health is because they talked about it. There were no hushed tones and shame around the subject in appropriate company. Discussing values meant discussing sexual behavior and topics like consent; one’s right to say, “Yes,” or “No.” Mothers taught their daughters about their bodies, about womanhood, and the responsibilities that came with it. Coming of age ceremonies were performed. Becoming a woman was not only acknowledged, it was celebrated. These rites must continue today. They are life instructions and cannot be ignored. We neglect them at our own peril.
Until we own our sexuality as Native women, we will never know full empowerment. Elders know this. If you’ve ever been around older Native women you’ll know they’re quite comfortable discussing sexual matters, and aren’t above telling the occasional dirty joke.
We should be teaching our children about relationships, sexual health, family planning, and safe sex. We need to tell them that having sexual thoughts and feelings are natural, and nothing to be ashamed of. We have reproductive rights. We are in control of our bodies, and no one else. With knowledge comes responsibility. Young women who are knowledgeable about their bodies and comfortable in their own skin are less likely to be taken advantage of, will take better care of themselves, and will become role models for others. We must embrace who we are, entirely.
There is much talk of decolonization, but little has been said on the subject of sex. It’s time to stop ignoring the buffalo in the room. What’s more Indigenous than the human body in its natural state and the act of procreation? A traditional holistic view demands that we address sexuality, particularly as Native women who lead. Furthermore, there is research accumulating that shows a direct correlation between the mistreatment of Mother Earth and Indigenous women. Areas where the Earth is being raped and exploited, Native women are too. After all, she is the first Indigenous woman. She is grandmother to us all. As we reclaim her, we must reclaim ourselves.