Honoring our Past, Rebuilding Our Future
Finding My Community
For the last 7 years I have had the pleasure of traveling to different parts of Canada to spend time with Aboriginal Midwives. My first meeting with them came after unexpected travel changes. I flew into Buffalo, NY, rented a car to cross the U.S. boarder and I proceeded to drive into unfamiliar territory, with little more than a map from behind a tablemat. With evening approaching, the fog started to roll in, all of which presented a new challenge to my sense of direction. But something told me where to turn, maybe it was my ancestors, but I listened and turned where it felt right to turn. I somehow stumbled on to my very first gathering with the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives. Hosted in 6 Nations, Ontario.
I had just graduated from the University of New Mexico with my Master’s in Nurse-Midwifery and I was left wondering if I would ever have a community of Indigenous midwives who shared a common goal, to return birth back to our native communities.
So walking into this large room full of 40 or so Indigenous Midwives was a real eye opener. I settled somewhere in the back, next to a woman I had never met. Whom I later found out was Lesley Paulette, a pretty amazing Mohawk Midwife from Six Nations of the Grand River. After brief introductions, she was amazed at that I even arrived at that destination with little direction.
What followed will forever be a memory I keep close to my heart. A few Indigenous midwives got up and took their hand drums out and began to honor each other with songs from their communities. In all my life, I had never seen this. I didn’t know it, but this was a monumental gathering for NACM, after being founded in 2002, they were recognized from Health Council of Canada for contributions in Indigenous health care. They now had the funding and the organizational capacity to roll out community outreach and consultations on the return of midwifery and birth to remote communities
They acknowledge that returning birth to communities is critical to Indigenous people’s health and can assist in restoring skills and pride in communities. They also recognize that Indigenous midwifery contributes to cultural revitalization.
Since then I have been returning to Canada to be with my Aboriginal Midwifery sisters annually. Over the years they have helped me realize that restoring indigenous midwifery in our communities starts with us, as we recognize shared experiences as Indigenous women. I now see that by coming together to share indigenous knowledge is really the foundation for supporting life in our communities, which doesn't always require certification or licensing, rather that is women's knowledge sharing.
Indigenous Midwifery Today
Since then, I have harbored the seeds they planted in my spirit for community and sisterhood. From hosting the first Indigenous Midwifery, Ancestral Knowledge Keepers gathering in 2015, life long relationships with Indigenous midwives in the four directions have developed. Beyond this gathering they have carried these gatherings forward and created foundational relationships with Indigenous women across the nations.
Last year, two Indigenous midwives and I traveled to Canada for the International Confederation of Midwives conference and then later attended the NACM retreat in North Bay, Ontario. NACM leading the way again, submitted a position statement on Partnerships between Indigenous and non-indigenous midwives.
Position Statement on Partnership between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Midwives
Over the last two decades, Indigenous peoples have led an international movement, largely through various United Nations. Processes, which honor the unique realities and rights of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples around the world are rebuilding from the harmful effects of colonialism and seeking to heal from its intergenerational trauma. These dialogues, amongst Indigenous communities and their partners, have helped to inform and strengthen intercultural approaches to health systems and health care delivery, yet there is still much to be done. Indigenous midwives, their knowledge and contributions, are largely underrepresented and unrecognized in clinical practice, research, and policy development. Similarly, Indigenous birth attendants contribute to maternal and infant health, and are active in many communities globally. Indigenous midwives and birth attendants are able to respond to the specific needs of their communities.
The documented health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities internationally art striking. Indigenous peoples often experience higher rates of maternal and infant morbidity and mortality, even in developed nations. A lack of access to culturally safe health care and reproductive services in most Indigenous communities compounds these disparities. Indigenous midwives take unique approach to health care that is culturally safe, located within the community, and more accessible to marginalized populations
- Promote the voices of Indigenous midwives and recognize their unique contributions
- Build linkages between indigenous birth attendants and the midwifery community so that all reproductive health contributions are valued and enhanced.
- Support community self-determination in all aspects of reproductive health, including education, regulation, and care delivery. The return of birth, for some indigenous communities, is vital to their autonomy, health and connections to land and place.
- Recognize the systemic effects of colonization and make measurable goals to identify and close the gaps in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
- Promote cultural safety training for midwives, other health care providers and educators.
- Recognize that Indigenous midwives are uniquely positioned to provide high-quality care to Indigenous peoples to improve the health and well-being of Indigenous communities.
- Share appropriate administrative and organizational support for the development of autonomous Indigenous midwifery associations.
- Recognize the role of Indigenous midwives as stewards of the knowledge regarding traditions and rites within their communities, which support healthier communities over generations.
Source: NACM, 2017 Position Statement for ICM
Indigenous Midwifery Revitalization
Today Native American and Indigenous women make up about 1% or less of the midwifery workforce, many face challenges serving their own communities. These challenges are state and federal policies around certification and licensing of midwifery. We recognize that these current day policy infrastructures do not support Indigenous midwifery services in many of our Native communities and we recognize that many of the barriers Indigenous families face accessing Indigenous midwifery care are rooted in colonization.
Midwifery organizations like Midwives Alliance of North America, National Certified Professional Midwives, International Confederation of Midwives, and American College of Nurse-Midwives, are still being educated around the barriers we face as midwives in our Native communities. We recognize Indigenous midwifery revitalization does not begin with them, rather that it begins with us.
These are all current discussions we as Indigenous midwives are having right now. How do we rebuild indigenous midwifery in our communities? What does Indigenous midwifery sovereignty look like?
While in Canada, when we sat in ceremony with each other. For the first time in my life I sat in a sweat lodge with Indigenous Midwives, praying for the return of Indigenous midwifery to our communities. We came together from the 4 directions, calling out our Indigenous names as we entered the sacred womb of mother earth. Over the years, in gathering with Indigenous midwives, I have I heard stories of sky and star people, water people and earth people. Stories around the revitalization of birth ceremonies and circles of Indigenous women coming together to share their women's stories again.
While gathered with NACM Aboriginal midwives, we were given another honor too. To sit in circle with elder Mohawk midwife Katsi Cook as she gifted historically handmade midwifery pipes to four of the indigenous midwives. Sharing tobacco and midwifery stories, it felt like we were all fulfilling a predestined prophecy...the return of Indigenous midwifery.
Rooted in Our Past Looking to our Future, NACM Situational Analysis, Jan. 2017
Position Statement on Partnership between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Midwives, 2017