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Indigenous midwifery: cultivating social and cultural reproduction of life

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Oral statement to the 17 Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
(April 16 - 27, 2018)
Tansi. My name is Cheryllee Bourgeois and I am an Indigenous midwife from the Metis Nation in what is
currently Canada. I am here speaking on behalf of the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives, Kinal
Antzetik, Chirapaq and the office of Aboriginal Initiatives at Ryerson University who are committed to the
protection and preservation of Indigenous midwifery, including all related rights and cultural
responsibilities.
Traditional Indigenous midwives cultural and clinical knowledges and their contributions to the well-being
and positive health outcomes of Indigenous peoples, are largely unacknowledged in State health
systems. Indigenous midwives work tirelessly to improve maternal and infant health, throughout a
person’s reproductive life cycle most especially during pregnancy, birth and post-partum. We respond to
the specific needs of our communities and by doing so nurture the social and cultural reproduction of
Indigenous life. I ask that you consider the impact of a baby being born into a healthy and intact
community.
Despite this critical role, community regulated Indigenous midwifery is often undermined and actively
criminalized to the detriment of community health. To close the gap between Indigenous and non-
Indigenous health outcomes, the practice of Indigenous midwifery needs to be supported by state health
policy and integration.
The oppression of Indigenous midwives and the systemic barriers created to prevent Indigenous peoples
from accessing Indigenous midwifery care are in direct contravention to articles 24 and 25 of the
Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and constitute a threat to cultural survival.
Therefore, the following recommendations are proposed to Nation-States and UN agencies:
1. Recognize the harmful systemic effects of colonization and create measurable goals to identify
and close gaps in reproductive health inequities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous
communities.
2. Support Indigenous self-determination in all aspects of reproductive health, including education,
community regulation, practice, and autonomous associations of Indigenous midwives.
3. Eliminate criminalization of Indigenous midwives and make the necessary legislative and
regulatory amendments that legitimize Indigenous midwives, recognized by their community as
health care providers and guardians of Indigenous Knowledge.
4. Ensure the support and the resources of the State for the education of new traditional Indigenous
midwives, by multiple routes of education including apprenticeship and oral transmission of
knowledge.
In addition, we remind the organizations of the United Nations and Member States that the Permanent
Forum on Indigenous Issues has already received recommendations that relate to Indigenous midwifery,
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in the 3 , 5 and 9 sessions and we call for their immediate implementation.
These past recommendations call on WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA to incorporate Indigenous knowledge in
health, wellness, healing, illness, sexuality and childbirth, ensuring culturally comprehensive services;
systems integration of traditional Indigenous midwives in State health care structures; and a commitment
to legitimize and empower traditional Indigenous midwives to educate future Indigenous midwives and
provide reproductive health care free of criminalization.
New York. April 19th, 2018