Nunavut struggles to fill midwife positions

The Nunavut government says staffing challenges have slowed down efforts to bring more Inuit midwives into the health care system.

New book on Inuit midwifery published

The Nunavut government says staffing challenges have slowed efforts to bring more Inuit midwives into the health care system.

Monita O'Connor, an assistant deputy minister of Health, said she's proud of Nunavut Arctic College's graduated program, which allows Inuit to earn a certificate, diploma or degree in midwifery.

But she said it has been difficult to hire trained midwives from the South to come and support new ones in Nunavut.

"We were successful in recruiting midwives from the south to come up and help substantiate it, you know, provide a core so that we could create a training program around it. Unfortunately, those people have not stayed any length of time."

Mother Michelle Smith, left, holds newborn Wilder Smith as midwife Jane Crawford Peterson assists on July 24, 2003 in Green Bay, Wisc. The Government of Nunavut says staffind challenges have made it difficult to bring more Inuit midwives into the territory's health care system. (The Associated Press)

O'Connor said right now, there are midwives working in Cambridge Bay, but there are vacant positions in Iqaluit and Arviat.

Stories from traditional midwives collected

Nunavut Arctic College has published a new book on Inuit midwifery, called "Birth on the Land". It collects memories from Inuit elders and traditional midwives from around the territory.

The book is part of a larger effort to train Inuit midwives to take a larger role in Nunavut's health care system.

Natsiq Kango organized and translated the first interviews for the book. She has been involved with midwifery since 1976. All of her five children were born in hospital, including one she wanted to deliver in Arctic Bay in 1978 with her mother, a midwife.

At the time, she told the nurse at the health centre her plan.

"Then she said, 'I'm going to get the RCMP to pick you up and take you to the airport to come down to Iqaluit and have your baby', so I had no choice but to come down," said Kango.

Kango was involved in Arctic College's efforts to design a midwifery course. It's now being offered in Cambridge Bay, and Kango would like to see it expanded to other communities.

"The services at the hospital are great, but there has to be more to it than that."

Kango hopes the new book will help motivate young people to take the college courses so those jobs can be filled by Inuit.

"The people, the Inuit should be involved and keep the birthing responsibilities, roles and responsibilities of midwives within the communities. Each region has their own way of birthing, so we need to keep that," said Kango.