Answering The War Cry: My part in the Resistance
Answering The War Cry: My part in the Resistance
Around this time last year, I was checking in with midwives in Oceti Sakowin camp, in Standing Rock, ND. Like many Native American’s, I had a vested interest in helping the water protector’s in the camps. After learning that half of the people in the camps were women and children, I wondered who was taking care of them? My knowledge of how Indian Health Service works, in regard to funding and care, knew that many of these individuals were not likely to get care at the local Indian Health Service health clinic, because they were not within their service area. Unlike many health insurance carriers, healthcare coverage for federally recognized American Indian people through IHS does not follow them from state to state or nation to nation. Essentially, you are an uninsured person once you leave your reservation, unless you have the luxury of working for a company that can provide you with full-coverage health insurance.
After watching the events unfold through the summer and feeling disgusted with the way our people were being treated, I felt compelled to use my skills and resources as a Nurse-midwife to act. I am one of 20 Native American Nurse-Midwives in the country and as a Dine’ woman, watching the acts of violence against those protecting the water and knowing this would impact not just those living there, but our future generations-well, it felt like my fight too.
Many assume, midwives only take care of pregnant women, which is not true. We actually care for women of all ages. Women’s health encompasses a wide spectrum of conditions that affect a woman’s physical and emotional well-being. Midwives also provide care in a number of settings and emphasize holistic care drawn from the communities and families served. In places of disaster and conflict, women and children are primary causalities and are generally displaced from their homes. Midwives will often go to these make shift communities and provide care.
Prior to Standing Rock, I had often heard people describe our reservations like 3rd world countries, with limited water, electricity, and dirt roads for miles. I wondered why-if people outside our reservation boarders saw it as a place where the land and people where in crisis, where was the help? Perhaps it looked way cooler to take selfie’s in other countries where funds were being raised to help them or to have a cool story to tell about helping displaced refugee’s in Syria? I just knew, the War Cry for help in Standing Rock resonated with me and that was my opportunity to help.
Nothing prepared me for the journey I was embarking on. I had thrown myself into the resistance with a heart ready to help. The complexity of the situation, the relationships, and the trauma that everyone brought with them and experienced at the hands of the police force, where all things I was wasn't prepared for. When you read about Native American's you read things like we have shorter life spans, historical trauma, lateral violence, PTSD, and violence against women like it’s a thing of the past. Those of us living in our communities and who come together for resistance movements like this, know otherwise. Thankfully, we also bring our prayers and ceremonies for healing where ever we go.
My intention was to set up a space for midwives to work out of, coordinate volunteers, and raise funds for traveling volunteers to get there to serve. In early October, 3 midwives traveled with me across the 4 states to set up a space in camp. We arrived late, the night before Indigenous People’s day. Monday was filled with planned direct-action activities, but all I was concerned about was checking in with local medic and healer groups about what kind of resources they had, orienting ourselves to where each camp was located, the nearest hospital and town, and what kind of health care issues people in camp were getting care for. After discussions with health care volunteers, we got confirmation that midwifery care was in-fact needed and wanted.
Despite our best efforts, we were unable to set up a space to see women out of and so after 1 week in camp, my midwife partner and I drove home and left 2 midwives in camp to set up the clinic. The work they both did to secure a yurt, supplies, and building relationships with the medic healers was monumental to our success.
Over the course of 3 months, midwife volunteers came through camp providing care to anyone and everyone. Although, I wasn’t able to provide direct care to those in camp, I spent many hours at home coordinating with volunteers, raising funds, and sometimes calling in prescriptions of antibiotics for women. Volunteers checked in with me almost daily. As much as I wanted to be in camp working alongside them, I had a busy practice at which I was on call for births 24/7 and a busy clinic to attend to. I certainly felt conflicted about being needed in two places, so I made myself available to both of my communities near and far. You could say my body was home, but my heart was in Standing Rock.
Some volunteer midwives stayed in camp for weeks and returned multiple times through December. If it wasn’t for them and their dedication, our presence in camp would not have been as successful as it was. Volunteer midwives created a welcoming space where tea’s were shared with visitors and a comforting space for those returning from direct action activities. They saw the swell of people come through camp change day to day. If you can think about the millions of people who don’t have health insurance and the luxury of a community that will claim them, midwives, nurses, doctors, and herbalists took care of them there. Women sick with colds, women fleeing unsafe relationships, individuals with mental illness, women with reproductive health issues, all were taken care of.
That list doesn’t do justice to those who were taken care of in camp, but it certainly does reflect a larger population of people around the country that do not have health insurance or the financials means to get their basic healthcare needs met.
It also brings up questions of what is our sovereign rights to serve our communities outside of the political, financial, and institutional systems set up to oppress us? Providing women’s health care in a state that has no regulatory laws around midwifery and doing so on sovereign land. When do tribes begin to enact their sovereignty to provide healthcare to their communities, outside of the U.S. governments regulations? These were questions I have been mulling over since Standing Rock. They are also questions I don't have answers to.
I know my Standing Rock story is one of many and really only a small piece of my experience there. I wanted to tell my personal story here so that you know that Indigenous midwifery is not confined to a clinic, a home, a hospital, birth center, or completely regulated, it’s what you make it. Skills to save a life are important, but skills to walk with your community as it heals or as it fights for it's resources-are cornerstones to being an indigenous midwife. For me, Indigenous midwifery was my call to act and my answer to the War Cry of the people.