In an article published by Rewire on Friday (January 5), Ojibwe journalist Mary Annette Pember writes about the rise of traditional birthing practices in Native communities throughout North America. Pember writes that the resurgence is a response to the poor treatment Native women face in medical environments funded by the Indian Health Service in the U.S. and the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch in Canada.

She interviews a number of Native women working in the arenas of maternal health, including Rebekah Dunlap, an Ojibwe doula and nurse in Minnesota, about the treatment facing Native women in hospital settings. 

“When I worked in the hospital, I saw so many Native mothers who would hemorrhage and have terrible outcomes during their births. It seemed so abusive; they were treated like they were sick already when they entered the hospital doors,” said Rebekah Dunlap.

What began quietly as the efforts of a few dedicated women has in recent years grown in size, scope and agility. Today, Native women across the United States and Canada are putting their skills to work in challenging the status quo of mainstream medicine.

Pember also outlines the poor health outcomes facing Native women: “The risk of maternal death for Native women is twice that of white women in the United States. The infant mortality rate for Native American and Alaska Native babies is .83 percent, second only to rates for non-Hispanic Black American babies of 1.13 percent.”

She argues that culturally-inappropriate care in government-run settings is at least partially to blame for these outcomes, and for that reason, many activists in the community are returning to traditional practices and settings for childbirth. Pember highlights the work of Nicolle Gonzales, a Navajo nurse-midwife whose work Colorlines featured in 2015, alongside Dunlap and others working in Canadian territories.

…Dunlap and a handful of other Native women in her area are creating a local effort to spend time with traditional midwives and healers and encourage expectant people to learn more about their Ojibwe birthing ways.

“Our Ojibwe stories describe how the fathers would keep a fire burning while the woman birthed so the baby’s spirit could find its way.” Having a prescribed role for the father provides him with a sense of connection and purpose with the birth.

“For Ojibwe, birth is a ceremony; baby is on a spiritual journey before they actually arrive,” Dunlap said.

Read the full article here.