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This Int’l Day of the World’s Indigenous People, PWRDF celebrates midwives

Midwives of the three partner groups meet in Mexico, accompanied by PWRDF staff.

August 9, 2021

By Jose Zarate

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The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is observed on August 9 every year to raise awareness and protect the rights of the world’s Indigenous peoples. This day also recognizes the achievements and contributions that Indigenous people make to improve world issues, such as protecting the environment. The theme for this year is “leaving no one behind, a call for a new social contract, highlighting rights, diversity, participation and inclusion.“

PWRDF acknowledges and recognizes our many Indigenous partners, who since 1997, have carried out initiatives aimed to restore and preserve Indigenous languages, culture and traditional knowledge, as well as healing and health for women, youth programs and providing appropriate counselling on suicide prevention, and access to safe water. All these partners’ programs and projects are aimed to ensure the wellbeing for today and future generations.

PWRDF has also supported Inter-Indigenous partnerships and Indigenous cultural and knowledge exchange between Indigenous communities from Canada and Latin America. During these activities, the participating Indigenous groups have identified one key concern: the challenges faced by Indigenous midwives.

In 2017, in response to the request from Indigenous women organizations in the Americas, PWRDF funded the Indigenous Maternal Health and Midwifery Practices Program. This program is led by KINAL Antzetik from Mexico, CHIRAPAQ from Peru and RYERSON’s Aboriginal Initiatives from Canada. It has helped improve maternal health of Indigenous women in the Americas by empowering Indigenous midwives to design, develop and implement strategies and best practices.

Cheryllee Bourgeois of Ryerson University’s Aboriginal Initiatives speaks at the UN.

In 2018, representatives of CHIRAPAQ, KINAL and RYERSON participated at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), and put the issue of Indigenous midwifery firmly on the UN agenda. Their recommendations on Indigenous midwifery were submitted and included in the corresponding final reports, specifically regarding:

  • access to health systems with cultural relevance
  • strengthening of indigenous health systems
  • exercising sexual and reproductive rights
  • recognition of the knowledge of Indigenous peoples in health matters.

Indigenous midwifery knowledge and practice are critical to preserving Indigenous culture. Language, food cultivation, medicinal plant use and practices are combined in rituals of a deep spiritual significance. Indigenous midwifery is not limited to delivering babies; it is directly related to the preservation of knowledge, cosmology and the physical territory of Indigenous people and its future generations. PWRDF staff were honoured to witness the international Indigenous exchanges of traditional midwifery knowledge carried out by CHRIAPAQ, KINAL and RYERSON’s Aboriginal Initiatives.

Chirapaq in Peru produced this video about the midwifery program.

In 2019, these three program partners met in Mexico and Peru and tackled a common key concern – the criminalization of midwifery. In central and south America many Indigenous midwives receive fines and threats for practising. They are excluded from health systems and prevented from registering births or issuing birth certificates. This undermines the ability of local governments to respond properly to their Indigenous populations and creates more barriers for Indigenous peoples to fully participate in civil society. This is rooted directly in racist and discriminatory policies and practices of many institutions, governments and organizations.

In 2019, the issue of Indigenous midwifery was included once again in the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) as an outstanding and critical agenda item for future UNPFII sessions, thanks to our partners’ work.

PWRDF honours the work accomplished by these Indigenous women organizations and it has committed to continue their collaboration, support and partnership. In keeping with this year’s theme to “leave no one behind,” the Indigenous Midwives program ensures a stronger future for Indigenous people.

Click here to support PWRDF’s Indigenous programs.