“We all carry a piece of the puzzle-if we come together, we can piece back the puzzle that was scattered by colonization. There is no such thing as no culture, story, language-it’s not lost it’s out there and everyone has a piece of it.”
Indigenous Midwifery as an Expression of Sovereignty
Mothers of the Nations: Indigenous Mothering as Global Resistance, Reclaiming and Recovery, 2014
Last year Changing Woman Initiative was a primary organizer for the Indigenous Midwifery: Ancestral Knowledge Keepers Gathering, which was offered as a pre-conference to the 2015 Midwives Alliance of North America conference in Albuquerque, NM. Our hopes for this gathering was to create an opportunity for Native American midwives across the country to connect and to give voice to the work they were doing in their own communities. However, like many planned events, this gathering took on a spirit of it’s own. Issues that we have not been confronted with before began to surface, issues that we were not prepared to deal with spoke loud and clear. We began to get a lay of the land and the state at which the spirit of Indigenous midwifery was in. As we came together, with hope in our hearts and with a deep need to connect with women who understood our fight, we carried with us, the pain from the disruption of traditional birth knowledge. We told stories of our fragmented communities and the medicalization of birth with the direct marginalization of Indigenous midwifery. With our medicines for healing, we came together carrying much anxiety, hopes, fears, and unfortunately this created more deterioration of ties between women, rather then strength and unification.
It has taken several months of reflection to understand that we have such a long way to go to reclaim our places in birth again. At the time, we looked to our Aboriginal sister’s in Canada for guidance, as that they were years down the road from us, but where we did not look was to our sister’s to the South, West, and East of us. In looking to the four directions for healing, our world has opened up, in this came understanding that indigenous midwifery worldwide is experiencing the very same things we are, dispossession of land, fragmentation of family, medicalization of birth, western beliefs and frameworks that don’t incorporate our way of healing, our way of birthing, mothering, and living on the territories that feed us.
Today as Indigenous midwives, we are all re-constructing our roles in our communities again, 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 traditional life way teachings and have unknowingly integrated into a system that does not value us as knowledge keepers. It is for this very reason I hold my elders high, women who have carried the spirit of Indigenous midwifery through the years, despite the dehumanizing frameworks they too have had to be apart of to care for their communities. I hold them high, I cry tears of joy that they are still here. I also think about the future. I think about the future of Indigenous midwifery, although each of us are scattered around the globe, fighting for the right to carry our women’s medicine…we are one drumbeat together.
This gathering highlighted common threads of internal racism and inequality that has woven itself into the fabric of indigenous midwifery, all of which we have been all trying to combat individually in our home communities. It also became apparent that the branding and professionalism that midwifery took, has created divides larger then we could imagine. These realizations, perhaps were not everyones’s experience, rather they were identified as the “unnamable forces” that were keeping us from being unified, organized, and hindering much needed progress. The positive aspects of the gathering were that Indigenous midwifery was very much alive in our communities. Additionally, despite some differences, we very much wanted to be in ceremony together…. In what space would we be able to share our women’s stories openly and unapologetically, to share salves, herbs, and teas? So…how do we as Indigenous midwives begin fulfilling our obligations for promoting a much-needed in-depth transformation to meet the needs of our communities?
As we continue to implement measures to eradicate racist stereotypes and perceptions of who we are as birth keepers, the time is now to acknowledge Indigenous midwives as individuals whom have social and political rights. The CEDAW proposal, which “urges State parties to acknowledge that the subordination of indigenous women is due to ethno-cultural, gender and class mechanisms of oppression, rooted in colonization processes and systematic, structural relations of inequality, affirm that the individual and collective rights of Indigenous women have been denied.”(Draft CEDAW, 2014). This statement outlines recommendations to State parties to ensure the integrity of the rights of indigenous women, globally, and also outlines that the sexual and reproductive health be rooted in ancestral knowledge systems.
It is our pleasure to work with Hermane Hayes-Klien, the founder of Human Rights in Childbirth on the Global Indigenous Midwifery CEDAW Project. The Global Indigenous Midwifery CEDAW Project is intended to elevate the voices of and create a platform for Indigenous women and midwives, about the human rights issues they are facing in their communities on all continents; specific to maternity care, sexual and reproductive health. Through collaboration with Indigenous groups worldwide, the Global Indigenous Midwifery project intends to submit a draft of recommendations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), regarding the human rights of Indigenous women and midwives worldwide. The working document supports and reflects consensus among Indigenous women and midwives world-wide, that the collective rights of indigenous women have been denied. Universal human rights assert that people can be united across cultural and political positions over common rights without discrimination and in working with Hermane and the Human Rights in Childbirth organization; we hope to create partnerships across the globe that will create ripples of change locally.
More importantly, we hope through the Global Indigenous Midwifery CEDAW Project, that it can be used to achieve the millennium development goals. 1) Reduce maternal mortality through ensuring access to skilled birth attendants, 2) achieving universal access to reproductive health, 3) creating healthcare delivery systems that reflect cultural beliefs and customs.
Through taking on this leadership role with our Indigenous midwifery sisters worldwide, we hope to create a foundation for governing systems that transcend boarders. We want to acknowledge the women’s organizations from Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Nepal, Canada and Guatemala, all of whom have laid the groundwork for our nations in the draft CEDAW document. We will be actively working in the coming months, to coordinate working groups, seeking funding, and speaking publically about this work being done with Human Rights in Childbirth.
This important work could not come at a better time, as that May 5th is the International Day of the Midwife. As we celebrate this day with our global sisters, we look to the future of Indigenous Midwifery.
If you would like to be apart of this important work, please send us your information.