Thunder Bay

Ontario restores 'beautiful ceremony' of birth by funding 6 Aboriginal midwifery programs

The Ontario government is establishing six Aboriginal midwifery programs, at a cost of approximately $2-million, with the goal of offering culturally appropriate child and maternity care to a number of Indigenous communities.

Minister of Health sees initiative as a sign of reconciliation

Ellen Blais, policy analyst for Indigenous midwifery with the Association of Ontario Midwives, says this Aboriginal midwifery program will preserve families. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

The Ontario government is establishing six Aboriginal midwifery programs, with the goal of offering culturally appropriate child and maternity care to a number of Indigenous communities.

"If you think about it now, most Indigenous communities don't have midwives anymore, and what's left in Indigenous communities is not birth anymore. We're hearing in the media about suicides, we're hearing about death but the way that I look at it, now that we're going to be having midwives coming through and working in community, we will now see the restoration of that beautiful ceremony," said Ellen Blais, the policy analyst on Indigenous midwifery for the Association of Ontario Midwives.

A wall hanging illustrating the value of family was the backdrop at the Dilico Family Health Team Clinic for a provincial government announcement on plans to fund six Aboriginal midwifery programs. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

As an Indigenous midwife herself, she is helping to deliver an initiative that is near and dear to her heart, because she believes it preserves families.

"I was apprehended from my mother at birth and never got to meet her, so I became a midwife because I thought if we had midwives standing at the births of our women, and being there as primary care providers, this would interfere with some of the numbers of apprehensions we're seeing of out infants and babies," she said.

Provides choice

The certified Aboriginal midwives will offer health care throughout a woman's pregnancy and for up to six weeks after, and in most cases will work in existing health care teams with family doctors, nurse practitioners, social workers, mental health and addiction counsellors and traditional healers.

"It provides choice," said Dr. Eric Hoskins, Ontario's minister of health.

"It enables Indigenous women to receive care from an individual that understands and respects their uniqueness and their tradition and their culture and provides it, as all midwives do, in a highly comprehensive way."

Sign of reconciliation

Hoskins made the program announcement Thursday at the Dilico Family Health Team Clinic in Fort William First Nation, explaining that the clinic is hiring two Aboriginal midwives to provide culturally appropriate child and maternity care for up to 30 women over the next three years.

Both Hoskins, and Nathaniel Izzo, the manager of the family health team at Dilico, see the restoration of midwifery to Fort William First Nation as a sign of reconciliation.

Dr. Eric Hoskins, Ontario's minister of health, says this new Aboriginal midwifery program is about choice. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

"We will work with Indigenous women from our 13 affiliated communities and the midwife will travel to and from those communities to ensure that service is provided in the comfort of home for those women, so I think it will mean a repatriation of traditional midwifery services," said Izzo.

Some of the Aboriginal midwives are already using traditional practice said Blais.

"They go out on the land and they pick the traditional medicines and herbs and things and they make teas and they know all of their medicines for prenatal care, and to help get labour going and to support breastfeeding, " she said.

Midwives are "the keeper of that knowledge", said Blais.

Nathaniel Izzo, manager of Dilico Family Health Team, says the midwives will visit women in 13 communities to deliver care. (Cathy Alex/CBC )

In addition to the Dilico clinic on Fort William First Nation, the government is spending approximately $2-million to support the establishment of Aboriginal Midwifery programs in:

  • K'Tigaaning Midwives, Nipissing First Nation
  • Kenhte:ke Midwives, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory
  • Onkwehon:we Midwives, Akwesasne
  • Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre, Sudbury
  • Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre, London.

As well there are development grants to explore future sites for Aboriginal Midwifery services being offered to organizations in Cornwall, Cutler, Fort Frances, Keewatin, Kenora, Nestor Falls, Oshawa, Thamesville and Thunder Bay.