Nfld. & Labrador

This mom is bringing back an Innu tradition, by giving birth in a tent to connect with her roots

Thea Penashue will be giving birth to her second child in a traditional Innu way, which hasn't been done in decades.

Thea Penashue hopes the process will become more common for Innu women

Thea Penashue is planning to give birth to her second child inside a tent, the same way her mother was born 56 years ago. (Janice Goudie/CBC)

Thea Penashue will be giving birth to her second child in a traditional Innu way which hasn't been done in decades — in a tent.

"I'm looking forward to being able to connect with who I am as an Innu person, being able to connect with my culture and also the people who were born in tents in the past," she said. 

The tent, located outside of the Labrador Health Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, will be fitted with the bare minimum in supplies, but with a full medical staff on board to help Penashue through the process. 

She said she didn't want a hospital bed in the tent, choosing instead to keep things traditional, with a mattress laid atop some boughs. 

Her mother was born in the same way 56 years ago, Penashue said. 

But it's all a part of a bigger picture. Penashue, along with the Innu Round Table, hope to make the practice more common and have been pushing for a midwifery program for three years.

From left, Gisela Becker, Penashue and June Fry stand inside the tent where Penashue plans to give birth to her second child. (Janice Goudie/CBC)

In total, the Innu Round Table has received roughly $150,000 in funding for the creation of the program.

"I hope that this is something we could, maybe in the future, keep going, so that other Innu women know that they could do this too," said Penashue. 

"Maybe in the future it will be a norm, to have their babies in this way again."

Midwifery program

The Innu Round Table hopes to implement a midwifery program that will put at least one Innu midwife in the area to deliver Innu children. 

Interviews have been completed to find a consultant to help put the wheels in motion, said June Fry, Innu child health co-ordinator. 

"What I would actually love to see is a peer program where they learn hands-on, they don't have to go away to a university or college," said Fry. 

"So they become midwives through learning it through someone teaching it to them, and they learn it at their own pace, at their own level."

Penashue's tent is set up outside the Labrador Health Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (Janice Goudie/CBC)

Fry said there are many stories where Innu women in labour cannot properly explain how they are feeling in English when there is no interpreter available. Having an Innu-speaking midwife would be most ideal for the communities, she said, adding she hopes it will expand into Natuashish and Sheshatshiu. 

Gisela Becker, the provincial midwifery consultant, has been a midwife for 36 years.

Becker said she has seen births in a variety of settings, but none in a tent. 

"I think it's a great opportunity for the Innu Round Table Secretariat and the Innu people to reclaim birth in their traditions," said Becker.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Janice Goudie