Intersections: Indigenous Midwifery, Reproductive Justice, & Indigenous Feminism
The landscape of our bodies can be mapped through history by a timeline of Indian policies meant to create citizens of the United States. Like our land, indigenous bodies are in different states of recovery and resistance, while working to reclaim the “sacred” through our medicine teachings. Historically and currently indigenous women are the subject of collective trauma, cycling through stages of grief, while being re-traumatized through systems of oppression that have medicalized our reproductive rights. We know traditional knowledge systems, families, and identities as Indigenous women have forever been changed by our collective trauma, through colonization. The process of reconstructing ourselves while honoring our traditional knowledge systems, begs the question of who are we today? What work needs to be done to help restore our collective reproductive rights as Indigenous women? What role does indigenous midwifery play in this process?
In the last 10 years, it has become clear that there are many intersections between Indigenous midwifery, reproductive justice and indigenous feminism. As Gurr explains in her book about reproductive justice, “the fundamental role of race, class, sex, and gender inequalities in contemporary societies, and the histories from which these inequalities derive, necessitate the careful and deliberate consideration of social relations in an effort to understand health and wellness” (Gurr, 2015). It’s important to take into account the social, political, and economic forces around Indigenous women’s reproductive experiences, as that it requires us to examine how their well- being is shaped by these forces.
Many of the challenges American Indian women face around access to reproductive health care are a result of a healthcare rationing, multiple stakeholders, price discrimination, and government mandated policies around reproductive options offered at government funded healthcare facilities, like Indian Health Services. We know social determinates of health impact where and how American Indian women receive health care. Unfortunately, American Indian women’s collective voices and lived experiences are missing from the National Healthcare crises conversation
Reframing the concepts around health and identity
Reframing the concepts around health and identity where women reclaim their health for themselves and their communities is an integral part of healing. Indigenous midwifery supports this healing through creating environments where women can connect with their ancestral knowledge around their bodies while supporting them through their reproductive revolution of self-determination. Further, using indigenous midwifery as a framework to reconstruct a healthcare delivery system that addresses culturally rooted teachings around language, land, plant medicine, relationships, and takes into account the community’s collective trauma while centering (intersectional) American Indian women’s health is supporting the healing of our nations.
Although many assume midwifery is just about mothers and babies, it encompasses the care of all types of families and the care of women at all stages of life. Body sovereignty, sexuality, dismantling patriarchy and sexism in reproductive health care is the frontlines at which many birth workers find themselves. It’s important to know that restoring the reproductive, birth, and parenting rights of Indigenous women falls on all our shoulders. The challenges of the modern western world are that “feminist mothering is still responding to, and therefore structurally and conceptually influenced by, the parameters and definitions of patriarchal mothering” (Anderson & Lavell-Harvard, 2014). The displacement of Indigenous women within our families and clan systems, has been disrupted and continues to disrupt the foundation of our traditional and contemporary matriarchal societies.
It’s important to take into account the social, political, and economic forces around Indigenous women’s reproductive experiences, as that it requires us to examine how their well- being is shaped by these forces.
Reclaiming and restoring ceremony in birth, motherhood, sexuality, and parenthood-of our ancestors all lead to stronger nations, while acknowledging recovery is an on-going process. Today as Indigenous midwives, we are all re-constructing our roles in our communities, re-constructing frameworks that reflect our methodologies, re-constructing our governance, even re-constructing ourselves as that we have each survived deliberate separation from our matriarchal life way teachings and have unknowingly integrated into a settler colonial system that does not value us as knowledge keepers. Over the centuries we have seen how intellectualism was used to validate and legitimize reproductive knowledge and displace us from our place in our communities. Examining the process of elimination of our native teachings around puberty rites, birth, and motherhood is where many of us begin the journey of reclaiming our place in our communities again.
Gurr, B. (2015). Reproductive justice: The politics of healthcare for native American women.
New Brunswick, New Jersey & London: Rutgers University Press.
Lavell-Harvard, D., & Anderson, K. (2014). Mothers of the nations: Indigenous mothering as
global resistance, reclaiming and recovery. Bradford, ON: Demeter Press.