Phil Wilson (The Mother of A Scandal,” Dog & Wolf)
Amá is a feature length documentary which tells an important and untold story: the abuses committed against Native American women by the United States Government during the 1960’s and 70’s: removed from their families and sent to boarding schools, forced relocation away from their traditional lands and involuntary sterilization.
The result of nine years painstaking and sensitive work by filmmaker Lorna Tucker, the film features the testimony of many Native Americans, including three remarkable women who tell their stories - Jean Whitehorse, Yvonne Swan and Charon Aseytoyer - as well as a revealing and rare interview with Dr. Reimart Ravenholt whose population control ideas were the framework for some of the government policies directed at Native American women.
It is estimated over a twenty-year period between 1960 and 1980 that tens of thousands of Native American women were sterilized without their knowledge or consent. Due to poor record keeping during this era the number may in fact be much higher. Many of these women went to their graves having suffered this incredible abuse of power.
The film ends with a call to action – to back a campaign to get a formal apology from the American government, which would then open the door for the women to bring forth a lawsuit. This call to action will be supported by an online petition on the film’s website.
Amá was co-produced by Raindog Films, a London-based production company helmed by Academy-award winning actor Colin Firth and prolific film producer Ged Doherty, and the Roddick Foundation.
The film had its world premiere in London on December 6, 2018 during the Global Health Film Festival and its U.S. premiere on February 7, 2019 during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
Amá has been picked up for distribution by Dartmouth Films, which is working to have the film acquired for national and global audiences while also executing an outreach plan to ensure that the film is screened widely in Native American communities and in major film festivals.
Reports of forced sterilization of Native American women began to surface in the 1970s.*
Of the 100,000 to 150,000 Native American women of childbearing age during this period anywhere between 3,400 to 70,000 of these women were involuntarily sterilized through tubal ligation or hysterectomy.*
The numbers cannot be accurately known due to poor record keeping but many believe the number to closer to 70,000. Many women were not given a choice to refuse to undergo the sterilization procedure. Many were manipulated into thinking that they would risk losing their welfare aid or even their lives should they refuse to undergo a sterilization procedure. Recent evidence has suggested that the procedure was often carried out under the pretence of other operations, routine check ups or during emergency surgery relating to pregnancy or abortion when the women were experiencing high stress. Many of the victims didn't know they were sterilized until years afterwards.
There is further evidence that the sterilizations had an appreciable effect on the fertility rates of Native American women. In the 1970s, the average birth rate of Native American women was 3.79 children, but by 1980 the birth rate had fallen to 1.8 children.*
These practices have adversely affected many Native communities contributing to high rates of depression, alcoholism, family trauma and personal shame. The time is now for these women to be listened to and for the United States government to recognise and apologise for the pain and suffering caused by these practices.
* "Investigation of Allegations Concerning Indian Health Service". Government Accountability Office. November 4, 1976. Addressed to the Honourable Senator James Abourezk.
* Sally Torpy, “Endangered Species: Native American Women’s Struggle for Their Reproductive Rights and Racial Identity, 1970 to 1980s” (Master’s Thesis, University of Nebraska, Omaha, 1998.)
* Lawrence, Jane (2000). "The Sterilization of Native American Women". American Indian Quarterly.