Indigenous birth gathering explores return to traditional birth practices
- Andrea Ledding | November 08, 2018
Anishinaabe midwife Doreen Day (Waubanewquay) was a major resource at the Indigenous Birth Network Gathering on October 30th in Saskatoon.
“I’m here to talk about traditional birth and the teachings that we as nations are trying to reclaim, to bring healing and health back to our people,” said Day. “I truly believe as a midwife that how you come into the world makes a difference in how you operate and how you’re perceived, how you generally live life is how you are born into the world: it makes a difference.”
Her second son was a homebirth assisted by her mother, moved to tears because she’d had 17 children of her own but “never seen it up close.” That son, now nearly 40, had never been in a hospital in his life until a few years ago.
“I just totally believe that how you come into the world, in ceremony, that guides your life. That it’s pivotal and how good you can live, if you come in that way. It makes all the difference,” said Day, adding she was now having her grandchildren at home in Net Lake, Minnesota, and she’s proud of the community that exists here in Saskatchewan. “I told them, you have an Indigenous Birth Network. We don’t even have that in the States, where I’m from.”
She said having the midwives, doulas, Elders, and teachings while collaborating is exactly what should be happening. “It’s very impressive that there are 130 women here talking about traditional birth. In my lifetime I didn’t think I would see that.”
Her mother had her first 5 children at home, but then midwives were outlawed in the 1940’s, so the subsequent 12 were born in hospital. She talked about how these kinds of environmental interferences and laws have interrupted traditional child-rearing practices; deforestation meant they could no longer construct tikanagans (moss bags with wood frames). Her younger children and all her grandchildren have had tikanagans and swings over the bed. Her traditional teachings and becoming a midwife she attributes to her supportive community and ceremonial lodges.
Some presentations focused around surveys done in current north and south Saskatchewan First Nations; while there are not currently programs in place in most locations, there is strong interest. Unfortunately, most pregnant First Nations women are being forced to relocate to larger centres for birthing, uprooting them from their communities, support system, families, and other children. It can become isolating and traumatic, versus the polar opposite: home birthing.
“This is key to healthy baby, mom, family, and community. We want to see the funding, programs, and legislations in place to support it,” said Dr. Angela Bowen from the U of S College of Nursing, currently working to initiate a midwife training program at her college.
Jessica Dieter, a young mother of three and Community Research Assistant in health services, added that it’s exciting to see how it has grown in the first year, since their initial gathering in 2017.
“It’s just so nice to see so many people are getting behind it and see it gaining momentum. It really makes me happy for the future generations...hopefully this will be even more so [the norm] for them.”
Elder Alice Pahtayken, Neekaneet Elder, said she’s glad for the traditions to be reclaimed in the communities; there are many Elders and knowledge keepers who need to start sharing what they know. “I think it’s been a long time waiting, it’s been there prior to Residential School, prior to the dysfunctions in family, it’s time to reclaim the traditions back into our communities.”