The federal government will launch new funding initiatives to improve access to midwifery services in First Nation and Inuit communities, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott announced this week at the International Confederation of Midwives Congress.
Ottawa has allocated $6 million over five years to fund First Nation and Inuit community-based midwifery projects. The money is part of the $828 million promised in the 2017 budget to improve the health outcomes of Indigenous people.
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"I am very proud to announce this funding to improve access to much-needed midwifery services in First Nations and Inuit communities," Philpott said in a news release. "I believe it is vital to support midwifery care, which will bring traditional birthing practices back to these communities, better support mothers and their babies and build strong families."
Health Canada "cannot be more precise [about where the funding will go] until we have engaged First Nations and Inuit partners in developing the framework for this important initiative," the department said in a statement.
Indigenous organizations such as the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Pauktuutit and the Assembly of First Nations will help decide where to allocate the funds, the statement said.
"The role of the midwife is culturally significant, so bringing our Indigenous midwives back in our communities and building that up has a lot of cultural significance and importance," said Evelyn George, co-chair of the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives.
The funding announcement is a "landmark decision," with no other federal government giving as much funding to support midwifery in Indigenous communities, George said.
The funding might not be sufficient, but it's a good "first step," she said.
"It's going to be a process over generations to really get things where we need them to be," said George. "To bring back any profession, it's going to take time."
The profession of midwifery disappeared in First Nation and Inuit communities over the last 100 years due to colonization and changes in the Canadian health-care system, the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives says.
Limited midwifery programs
Despite the funding promised this week, finding certified midwives in communities might be challenging, since there are limited midwifery programs offered through Canadian universities.
In 2016, the only midwifery program in Manitoba, a joint program between the University of Manitoba and the University College of the North, was cancelled due to a lack of funding, the schools said.
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University College of the North communication director Jim Scott said this week's funding will have no impact on the now defunct program.
The lack of midwifery training is not unique to Manitoba — it is also a problem in the Atlantic provinces, where there are no programs offered.
George remains optimistic, and said some of the best midwifery programs in Canada are actually grassroots programs launched by communities.
The Inuulitsivik Health Centre in Puvirnituq, Nunavut, was launched in 1986, and it is the leading example of a successful midwifery program, George said.
"They're learning in the community in the Inuktitut language, and they're taking care of their own community," said George. "They're really the original group to bring [the profession] back to the community.
"They decided to stand their ground and say we don't want to be evacuated anymore and we're going to do this for our people."