May 28, 2019
By Juan Camilo Suárez Colmenares
This past April, almost 100 midwives from Indigenous communities gathered in Peru for the First International Gathering of Indigenous Midwives of the Americas. The purpose was to promote cultural exchanges in traditional midwifery and knowledge of Indigenous midwives in Canada, Peru and Mexico.
This ground-breaking event was part of the Indigenous Maternal Health and Midwifery Program currently being funded by PWRDF. Its participants and implementing partners are CHIRAPAQ from Peru, Kinal Antzetik from Mexico and Ryerson University’s Aboriginal Initiatives from Canada. Midwives discussed the challenges of Indigenous midwifery and possible future actions so the practice can continue in the three countries. The event focused on pregnancy, childbirth, child delivery and the use of medicinal plants in this ancestral practice.
The event began with a traditional Indigenous ceremony offered by the Elders and Traditional Spiritual Keepers from regions of Peru, Canada and Mexico. They safeguarded the gathering grounded on Indigenous principles and values such as respect, love and participation in good mind and a clean heart.
Participants discussed health from an Indigenous perspective. “Health involves the relationship we maintain with the elements that surround us,“ said José Zàrate, PWRDF’s Canadian and Indigenous Communities Program Coordinator. “Water, earth, wind, fire, flora, fauna; its balance allows a healthy coexistence between men, women and the environment in which they live. Health includes three levels of oneself, and it is holistic: spiritual, emotional and physical. If we, as indigenous peoples neglect the elements and other living beings that surround us, health will dissipate, giving way to disease.”
Other important talking points were:
- The use of midwives and best practices found in Canada, Peru and Mexico.
- The importance of recognizing midwifery knowledge. Indigenous ancestral knowledge is being appropriated without acknowledging Indigenous communities as the architects of their own knowledge.
- Racism and discrimination in the education system, in the validation and recognition of traditional Indigenous midwife knowledge, and the access to the Western healthcare system, not only for pregnant women but also for mothers of pregnant women, caregivers and families.
- The criminalization of Indigenous midwifery and threats to eliminate this ancestral practice, risking the preservation and transmission of knowledge.
“I think that Indigenous people connecting across countries internationally, is actually critical to the learning and building of Indigenous midwifery,” said Cheryllee Bourgeois of Ryerson University’s Indigenous Maternal Health Midwifery Program. “Part of the reason is that there are pieces of knowledge that midwives hold that are so different or don’t exist up in Canada, so it is such a rich exchange in terms of ways to move forward, what to center, how people come together, and the relationship that people have with their communities in terms of the care that they are providing.”
For more than 20 years, PWRDF has worked alongside the Indigenous communities of Canada and has involved them as partners of their own development. Outside of Canada, the work with Indigenous communities has focused in promoting the Indigenous culture, notably through the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas.
With files from José Zarate, PWRDF Canadian and Indigenous Communities & Latin America-Caribbean Program Coordinator
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