Guest post: Why doulas are important in Native American communities

This is a guest post from Raeanne Madison, who was profiled a few weeks ago in the Radical Doula profile series. This post was originally published on her blog. Her perspective, and the perspectives of other Native American and Indigenous folks, is crucial in this fight for reproductive justice. I’m inspired by her words and her spirit, and honored to be able to feature them here.
Ondaadiziike. The Ojibwe phrase for giving birth. When I was writing this article, I was hoping to combine ondaadiziike with the Ojibwe words for safety and comfort. I was surprised that the dictionaries I consulted didn’t include these words. So I was left with just ondaadiziike. No safety, no comfort to accompany it. This is reflective of modern birth culture in Native American communities, I think. Women (and girls) are giving birth without the accompaniment of safety and comfort. Modern day pre, ante, and post natal care for brown women in the United States is at times unsafe, and usually uncomfortable. Racism, sexism, poverty, and isolation have left women and their babies in desperate need for support, love, and compassion.

It wasn’t always this way. Native women were long respected as life givers. Our ancestors had mysterious, spirited reproductive powers. Women were forbidden to enter the dance arena during their moon time (a practice still respected in modern Powwow culture); not because they were viewed as dirty or hysterical, but because these women were so powerful during this time in the life cycle that they could take away power from anyone in the circle. So they stayed out in respect to their community members. Women took care of each other, Aunties, Grannies, Mothers, and Sisters. But women were also independent, knowledgeable, and assertive in their bodily rights. Reproductive culture varied from tribe to tribe but one thing was constant: women’s powers were sacred.

Enter Western patriarchy. Native women were subjected to horrors manifested in all aspects of bodily harm. Our ancestors were kidnapped, gang raped, and fed to war dogs. Eaten for entertainment in circus like manner. Forced to marry white men and birth babies alone, without the help of their beloved Sisters. Traditional knowledge of menstruation, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding were lost, and Native women today still pay the price. Of all the ethnicities in the US, Native women suffer the most when it comes to birth. We have some of the highest teenage pregnancy rates, pre-term birth rates, maternal and neonatal morbidity rates, and some of the lowest breastfeeding rates. Reproduction in our community has become dangerous and unpredictable at worst, and casual at best as women forget just how powerful their bodies can be. Studies have proved that these racial disparities exist because of poverty and racism.

I’ve been inflicted with the pain of my sisters. I have dreamt about it and received pleas for help from the ancestors who visit me in my sleep. Doula care is going to be incredibly important in mending the disparities in pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. I realize this. I need my sisters to realize this, too, and step up to fill that space along with me. We need Native women to become doulas, certified or not. We need a group of women to get together and create a resource for Native doulas and their families; a resource describing and honoring the traditions of our ancestors that includes a dictionary dedicated to Native birthing practices and care.

We need women to learn how to navigate and negotiate modern and traditional medicine and birthing ways with confidence, sensitivity, and power. We need women to come back to the communities they came from and offer their support to their Sisters. No woman should be without the knowledge of how to take care of her body in her life. No woman should suffer traumatic pregnancies and births.

4 thoughts on “Guest post: Why doulas are important in Native American communities

  1. oldwaywmn August 18, 2011 / 9:55 pm

    Well said. I agree completely. I have read some beautiful stories of the way birth used to be (and could be again) for Native women (and women of all races). i work as a doula and love being able to share such a blessed time in the lives of the women who call on me to assist them. I have begun asking around within the Micmaq community to learn more about their traditional birthing ways. I would love to assist woman to get back in touch with their bodies and birthing cultures the way their grandmothers did. Great article. Thank-you.

  2. andrias November 23, 2012 / 3:27 am

    the article was impressive , I just want to tell people that there is no way we can live without traditions that our ancestors left us. So it is very important to teach everyone in the community to value their cultures .

  3. Saumya Ayyagar March 28, 2013 / 2:29 pm

    Dear Reanne, Thank you for this post. I am a nursing student writing about Native American birth practices and I was wondering if you know off hand of any literature that would help me regarding this topic.

    • Saumya Ayyagar March 28, 2013 / 2:29 pm

      Apologies, I realize your name is spelled Raeanne

Add your two cents

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s