Call us aunties, says Ottawa-based collective of Indigenous doulas

Aunties on the Road is a collective of Indigenous full-spectrum doulas travelling to youth across Eastern Ontario to support them in a variety of reproductive life events.

Aunties on the Road travels to Indigenous youth to provide reproductive and sexual health counselling

Aunties on the Road travel across Algonquin and Mohawk territory to provide doula care to Indigenous youth. (Aunties on the Road)

Since Chrystal Desilets started calling herself a doula, she's spent more time explaining what a doula is than anything else.

That's why she and others at Aunties on the Road, an Ottawa-based collective of Indigenous full-spectrum doulas, are reclaiming and decolonizing their work by referring to themselves as aunties.

"By claiming aunties, we're giving people permission to feel pride in being caregivers again," said Desilets, an Algonquin from the Pikwakanagan First Nation.

"It's what our aunties would have done. Our big sisters, our mothers would have taken on these jobs to support us because back then, that's how we did it."

Chrystal Desilets, Algonquin from the Pikwakanagan First Nation, was trained as an Indigenous full-spectrum doula from the Native Youth Sexual Health Network in 2016. (Chrystal Desilets)

What is a doula?

The role of a doula is to provide emotional or physical support to a mother giving birth. But for this collective, it's far more.

They provide Indigenous youth aged 12-29 in eastern Ontario with free reproductive and sexual health counselling. That means incorporating Indigenous knowledge, teachings and ceremonies in prenatal, birth, and postnatal care, and in advocacy and options counselling for things like abortion, adoption, or birth control.

The aunties will travel to youth within a two-hour radius of Ottawa, going as far west as Pembroke and east to Cornwall. 

They get support from the Ontario Trillium Fund, the Youth Opportunities Fund, Minwaashin Lodge and the Ontario Indigenous Youth Partnership Project.

"When we go out of our way for our youth, we teach them how to go out of their way for others. We're role modelling that caregiver role," said Desilets.

"We want people to have as much access to their own teachings as possible."

That means training more Indigenous full-spectrum doulas.

Training more aunties

This month, the group held a 55-hour training for 23 Indigenous people. It inspired 19-year-old Ko'khó:wa Horn-Kirby to want to become a midwife.

"Growing up, I spent a lot of time around pregnant people and babysitting, and it's always been my favourite. I often give advice to those around me with children or a child on the way based off of what I learned coming from a family of women," she said.

"I realized a lot of what I do and how I help people is doula work, and I would love to take that further and be a positive person in someone's journey."

Over two weekends in November, 23 people were trained as Indigenous full spectrum doulas. (Aunties on the Road)

For Tess Laude, another auntie with the collective, training others is about meeting the high demand for doula care and support to Indigenous communities.

"I think a lot of non-Native people would look at this as like something that's competitive, but for us, the more people we train, the more Indigenous women are receiving support," she said.

"The end goal for us is knowing that there's not going to be a single Native woman giving birth in a hospital alone and knowing that they can rely on someone to come over and help them out in whatever way they need help."


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.