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Danielle Smith Continues a Long Tradition of Treating Indigenous Bodies as Property of the State

TW: Forced sterilization, the disk system, Danielle Smith.

Tansi Ninôtemik,

This is part two of a four part series that discusses how Danielle Smith’s proposed so-called parental rights policies parallel and contribute to ongoing settler-colonial violence. Since contact, the state has used legislation to treat Indigenous bodies as property, maintaining control, especially of those deemed to exist outside of neat categories.

The Indian Act aims to control Indigenous people. It perpetuates the colonial view that Indigenous bodies can, and should be controlled.[1] Historically, the state has allowed Indigenous people to access rights if they stay within the colonial rules. For instance, women lost status if they married white men, and men lost status if they pursued professions as doctors or lawyers.[2] The desire to control Indigeneity is harmful, rooted in fear and a desire to retain power, lacking grounding in community principles.

In the land, water, and ice known as the Inuit Nunangat, the dehumanizing disk system enforced against Inuit people aimed to control and manage their bodies.[3] Inuit people were forced to memorize their disk numbers to access a number of services, including education, housing, health, and money for food and supplies.[4] Hunting or trapped also required a disk number, and Inuit people were forced to choose new first and family names to replace their traditional Inuk names.[5] 

The disk system policed Indigenous bodies and could effectively shut individuals from society if their disk was lost.[6] Many Inuit feared the repercussions of not knowing their number, leading to memorization at “less than kindergarten age.”[7]  Some Inuit, in protest, or unaware of colonial naming conventions, chose the same family names, in what Inuk writer and scholar Norma Dunning calls a humor filled resistance.[8] For centuries, laws have regulated Indigenous bodies, dictating how and when we are able to access parts of society. 

The forced sterilization of Indigenous women has been occurring since the early 1900’s.[9] There is evidence that this practice is ongoing, and an estimated 12,000 women have been affected, as recent as 2019.[10] Procedures often lack medical justification, with coercion aligning with eugenics legislation, and women and gender diverse individuals experiencing a profound violation of their autonomy.

Danielle Smith’s policy reflects the lack of agency enforced by some of these laws. Fear breeds oppression, and harmful policies perpetuate the historic injustice faced by Indigenous communities. The struggle for autonomy and justice remains and ongoing challenge in the face of systemic discrimination and violence.


Until next time,

The ReconciliACTION YEG team

[1] Indian Act RSC 1985, c I-5.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Norma Dunning, Kinauvit?: What’s Your Name? The Eskimo Disc System and a Daughter’s Search for her Grandmother (Madeira Park: Douglas & McIntyre, 2022); Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, “About Canadian Inuit” (2013), online: Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami <,our%20homeland%20since%20time%20immemorial>.

[4] Supra note 1 at 65-66, 88.

[5] Ibid at 

[6] ibid at 84. 

[7] Ibid at 91.

[8] Ibid at 75, 81.

[9] Jennifer Leason, “Forced and coerced sterilization of Indigenous women: Strengths to build upon” (2021) 67(7) at 525-527.

[10] Maria Cheng, “Indigenous women in Canada forcibly sterilized decades after other rich countries stopped” (12 July 2023), online: Associated Press <>.

[11] "Monopoly" by Mike_fleming is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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