Native women are attending births in their communities as midwives, doulas, mothers, aunties, grandmothers and sisters. There are many women in Native American communities who attend the births of their relations and community women, but don’t recognize themselves as midwives or who won’t call themselves midwives, due to local state laws criminalizing this age old tradition. These women play an important role in our communities and are Indigenous Birth Workers.
Wise Women Gathering Place hosted an Indigenous Birth Workers Network meeting Abiinooji Aki Cultural Healing Center,Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation, Hayward Wisconsin, June 13-17, 2005
In a cabin in a woods, a group of Indigenous Birth Workers gathered on the ends of beds, couches and van bench seats, to share stories and dreams of reclaiming Indigenous birth traditions. While the rain cleansed the earth outside, we discovered that as Indigenous Birth Workers from coast to coast, whether we were midwives, doulas, aspiring midwives, mothers, and/or grandmothers, we shared many common values.
We shared with each other during talking/sharing circles and we did some activities to draw out our common values and perceptions. We did a values activity, where we each wrote out a value on an index card and placed them in clusters on the floor in the center of our circle.
We discussed the importance of reclaiming our traditions and the belief that all women are midwives. We discussed the importance of our role in protecting the family bond at birth. We discussed how important it is to identify or label the way women are abused and controlled in the medical model of birth. How respect of a women’s abilities are denied, also needs to be identified. We discussed how Indigenous foods are an important component to Indigenous health and how breastfeeding needs to be included in that discussion.
Every meal that we ate at Abiinooji Aki Healing Center was cooked with love by Mary Ellen or her daughters based on Indigenous Foods. We all felt so nourished and appreciated.
Midwives within many of our communities are grassroots traditional women, who the community recognizes as leaders and community nurturers, historically called the wise women of the community. Right from birth these women work with families to support ultimate health and bonding of family. These women nurture awareness and empower families with knowledge of belief ways, reinforcing relationship with the natural world.
Natural birth families are supported in providing the very best first food for the newborn; breastmilk. Breast milk is designed specifically for human babies and changes with the growing baby’s needs. Breastfeeding provides a family with the self-confidence that they are providing their baby the best possible nourishment, which often carries into assessing the food they provide beyond breastfeeding. Nutrition education identifies the need for locally culturally appropriate foods versus commodity foods or super processed foods, which are suspect. Through education these families are more likely to pursue growing their own foods, herbs and other local resource foods, due to increased awareness and serious personal commitment to their family’s health. Within the traditional indigenous culture, food is medicine.
Women in traditional communities determine the internal gathering from within their community boundary and distribution of foods and relations for the community. Whereas, the men took care of relations with the outside world, from hunting and fishing to relations with other tribes or nations. Women play an important role in agriculture and community development.
We will continue to work on fundraising, grant writing but more importantly build relationship and collaborations with other indigenous, indigenous women, women and midwifery organizations.