Here’s What You Should Know About Body Sovereignty

You may have heard that Tribal Nations have sovereignty. This means that they have power and authority to govern their people and lands. Each Tribal Nation is unique and goes about this in different ways.  

Body sovereignty is a similar concept, but means that you, as an individual, have full control over your body. Whether it’s what you eat, how you dress, or who you are intimate with, you have the power to determine how your body moves through this world. 

You are practicing body sovereignty when you: 

  • Protect your peace from toxic relationships 
  • Create healthy personal boundaries
  • Challenge society’s standards about what bodies are “supposed” to look like 
  • Ask for consent before having sex or doing any sexual activity – including hugging and kissing 

When we honor the sovereignty of our own body and acknowledge the sovereignty of others, we can be a better relative to the people, plants, and places that we are in kinship (relationship) with.  

Body sovereignty also requires advocacy. Why? Right now, not everyone’s bodies are viewed as equally valuable by our society. Racism and harmful stereotypes about Native people contribute to this. These things along with unhelpful federal laws all fuel the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples’ crisis happening today. So, part of body sovereignty means raising our voices when it comes to these topics and advocating for ourselves and others when we are able. 

In addition to this, practicing body sovereignty means gathering the information you need to care for yourself and be respectful of others. Knowledge can be empowering, whether it’s knowledge about the foods that you need to stay healthy or how to have respectful relationships. You can gather this information by talking with an Elder, someone you trust, or doing your own research.  

Here are some resources to help you learn about expressing your body sovereignty and respecting the body sovereignty of others:

To Learn More:  

Author: McKalee Steen is a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, and is currently a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley in the Environmental Science, Policy, and Management department. She is passionate about studying Indigenous land stewardship practices, providing resources for Indigenous youth, and the power of storytelling.  

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