Radical Doula Profiles: Erynne M. Gilpin

This is a series highlighting folks who identify as Radical Doulas. Are you interested in being part of the series? Go here to provide your responses to the profile questions and I’ll include you!

About Erynne: tânsi kiya,  my name is erynne michelle and i am of mixed Saulteaux-Cree Métis, Filipina, Irish and Scottish ancestry. As someone of mixed ancestry, I believe it is essential to work towards a world where Indigenous communities and cultures, and the values that ground them, take precedent in our societies today. As a light skinned iskwe (womyn), I believe that it is my responsibility to confront colonial sexualized violence and educate non-Indigenous societies about the importance of Indigenous ancestral knowledge, relational accountability and protocol.

I am currently a PhD Student in the Indigenous Governance Program at the University of Victoria. My Doctoral work focuses on Indigenous wellness, leadership and body-governance; specifically birth-work. I further aspires to continue my collaborative research with community relations in the South through comparative North-South conversations and collaborations.
Erynne splits her time between Coast Salish/Lekwungen/WASANEC territories (Vancouver Island), Munsee Delaware/Oneida/Chippewa on the Thames Territories (Ontario) and Brazil.

What inspired you to become a doula?
I knew I wanted to be a birth worker for as long as I can remember.
It wasn’t until I stumbled across a grant for Indigenous folk seeking doula training- that I was able to access the training. In conversations with other birth workers, I began to understand the profound experience of birth, and the important roles of birthing traditions in efforts towards Indigenous sovereignty, well-being and self-determination. I do not see ceremony as divorced from politics, and furthermore body divorced from Land. Therefore, I believe that the work of an Indigenous doula, is integral for both physical and mental health as well as spiritual and emotional well-being.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
I identify with the term radical doula for two main reasons:
1) To acknowledge and therefore interrogate colonial historical legacies (founded upon racism, sexism and white-supremacist capitalist values) within mainstream health-care practice across Turtle Island.
2) To create safe spaces for Indigenous families to bring their new ones into their homes, clans, families and communities; in culturally safe and spiritually relevant ways.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?
My philosophy as a Doula is to first and foremost support the Mother and her relationships to herself, her body, her baby, partner/family and the Land.
I want her to feel a sense of confidence in her work, and to know that no matter what she has someone beside her at all times- and through all waves of struggle, emotion and triumph.
Furthermore, I believe that all families should be able to access safe health-care support, without the danger of racism or colonial violence. Therefore, I see myself as a mediator between non-Indigenous care-givers and the Indigenous families I support.
Finally, if the family chooses, I believe I have the responsibility to create birth spaces that feel culturally relevant and safe.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?
While I have only attended two births (as I received my training this year-2016), I would have to say my favourite thing is the relationships that are established. These are life-long relationships because in some way the mothers- and families experience a re-birth as well. I feel honoured to be able to witness such miracles, as well as support the mothers/families in any way that they need.
Each time a young one is born, we are healed a little more.
I believe that when born into the Language, into the hands of a loving circle (parents, family, birth aunty), and with water songs- that child’s spirit knows where it belongs in Creation.
This is the power of birth work.

If you could change one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth, what would it be?
That ALL Indigenous families and families of Colour have access to loving birth support/doulas/birth aunties – who have undergone meaningful and in-depth training on decolonial health-care, anti-racist birth-work and Indigenous birth traditions.

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