The Blog

Follow along as we work towards systems change and help create better outcomes for kids in our community.

Manitoba Indigenous Doula Initiative

July 03, 2017

We’ve had the opportunity to partner with a really amazing program called the Manitoba Indigenous Doula Initiative – a group of women who are working to promote traditional Indigenous child birth/parenting teachings and incorporate them into a training program for doulas. The result is more Indigenous doulas who are able to support Indigenous moms and families in a traditional way.

The Winnipeg Boldness Project and Mount Carmel Clinic were able to support them in piloting Wiiji’idiwag Ikwewag Sacred Circle of New Life Program as one of our small scale prototypes. We attended their graduation ceremony recently and were very honoured to be able to cheer on such a great group of women as they received their certificates of completion.

Through this pilot training, they were able to garner attention for their program and secured funding in the amount of $835,000 in partnership with the Dr. Jaime Cidro from the University of Winnipeg, the University of Manitoba, and Nanaandawewigamig (First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba). They’ll be working on training women on First Nation reserves in order to better support women in their own communities who are forced to fly to Winnipeg to give birth. You can read more about their grant here.

A couple of the women who attended the training program wanted to share in their own words their experiences as doulas. Here are their stories:

To move forward sometimes we need to look back.
April Slater

The room began getting warmer, flashes of light dash in my peripheral vision. On the bed my sister’s eyes looked wild. I smiled gently as her primal essence took over. A bolt of uncertainty in my stomach was immediately hushed.
I imagined my inner child sitting down with her insecurities and doubts. While the old lady, the one with blood memory, the leader stood up. She took over and said what was needed. My inner kookum in her infinite calm guided my sister into a safe space to work through the pain until it was time to push.
The energy of the room was electric. The feeling swept me up in it and it felt like riding a thunderbolt. It lit a fire in my blood and I welcomed the blood memory. My sister’s face flashed and changed. In one instance I saw my own face in hers, her face changed and she had many faces; ancient blood memory of the ancestors working through her and helping her as they awoke in this moment of creation.
The room felt full of people as my sister brought life. We were swept up in the emotion and cried together. “He’s here!” She exclaimed as she looked down at her sons face on her stomach. After the room cleared and mom/baby cleaned up, I sang to my new nephew Constance’s prayer. My doula journey began with looking back and finding the words our nana’s nana Constance the midwife would say at each of her births.
“Babies heartbeat, the beat of the drum. Thank you creator.”

And then she thanked me…
Karen Swain

So many thoughts and feelings are going through my mind.  I feel frozen and unable to move or think.  Maybe this was a huge mistake and I should just leave. I don’t feel worthy of this task. Okay – just focus. I recognise that I am panicking, and I take some deep breaths. The feelings subside.

I do my best to regain my composure and calm down. I call upon my spirit to help me and I pray for the grandmothers to work though me — to renew my blood memory and to draw on the ancient knowledge of women for women. I ask to recall the reading, the discussions, the teachings, and all the energy from our Indigenous Doula training.

Okay, its time. Get in there.

I join them by the bed and she’s in the zone. She’s so focused, breathing and concentrating. Her supports are encouraging, telling her how proud they are of her. The health care providers are awesome and are reassuring and guiding her. I hear them saying she’s at seven centimetres and she’s almost fully effaced. That’s awesome I tell her – so much progress.  We encourage her to relax between contractions. We stay close to her surrounding her with love and support. It’s so hard she says. You’re doing it I tell her. Keep it up.

I witness the transition in her. She has realised the strength of her mind, body, and spirit, and they all know what to do.  I hear them say she’s at ten centimetres and fully effaced. It’s time to push!

I hear the deep breaths and the soft moan as she starts to push. She’s concentrating and holding it.  “Awesome,” says the provider. “Now rest until the next one.”

They come quickly and gain in strength. Again she breathes and softly grunts as she puts her energy into the child’s journey. I see the head says the provider – look at the hair!  We are all are in awe. It’s almost time to meet your baby we say.  Deep breaths and push! Push!

The head is out.  Gently now – and there she comes! I see her face, her shoulders, her hips and her legs and toes! She’s here! The provider places baby on mom’s chest. Congratulations she says. I stand back as both mom and support take their first looks at this child they have waited for. It seemed like it took so long but it was just moments. I hear her tiny cries. She’s beautiful.

I bow my head in gratitude for all that has occurred tonight. As she’s birthed her baby, I have birthed my doula self. I’ve been part of a sacred miracle! It’s changed my life and filled my heart! And then she thanked me.

Land Acknowledgement

The Winnipeg Boldness Project resides in and works on the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary lands of the Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe), Anishinabewaki (Oji-Cree), Dené, Michif Piyii (Métis), Nêhiyawak (Cree), and Očhéthi Sakowin (Dakota). We recognize that we have benefited from and continue to benefit from colonization on the Treaty 1, Treaty 3, and Treaty 5 Territories.

It is important to also acknowledge how we benefit in this territory at the cost to Indigenous Peoples. Winnipeg has been drinking clean water for over a century via an aqueduct from Shoal Lake. In 1917, 3000 acres of Treaty 3 was declared property of the city of Winnipeg to build the aqueduct. This aqueduct was built over ancestral burial ground, to build these structures, the ancestors were disinterred and reburied. Construction of the aqueduct changed the waters significantly, causing the peninsula to become a man-made island. This now isolated Nation faced many challenges as a direct result from this aqueduct; Necessities like water, groceries, schools, and mail were only accessible via the dangerous trek to the mainland. Lives of adults and children were lost crossing to and from the mainland. Freedom Road, an all-weather road access finally opened summer 2019, over a century after displacement. This road, a testament to the success of Indigenous-led solutions, helps bring materials to build schools and a water treatment plant.

“I always think of it, even when I turn on the tap I’m like this comes from our community and this water probably contains our ancestors and the spirits of our ancestor. I think about the hardships of the people from Shoal Lake 40 who have gone through so many things for the benefit of Winnipeg’s drinking water,” says Angelina McLeod.1

Another benefit we reap in Winnipeg at a cost to Indigenous Peoples and land is the Hydro Electricity Development in Treaty 5. To optimize water movement for greatest power production the Province of Manitoba increased waterflow by creating the Churchill River Diversion in 1976. The modification of the waterflow caused flooding, shoreline erosion, and changes to water quality. This destruction of habitat has caused disruption to waterway travel, fishing, and hunting.