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NWT researcher joins remote community maternal health study

Inside a delivery room at the under-construction new Stanton Hospital in Yellowknife. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Inside a delivery room at the new Stanton Hospital in Yellowknife during construction. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

An Aurora Research Institute (ARI) researcher is part of a team receiving an $811,000 grant to study maternal health across Canada.

Dr Pertice Moffitt, ARI’s manager of health research programs, will study Indigenous and western approaches to maternal health.

The aim is to create policies that provide culturally appropriate support at a community level.

Specifically, said Moffitt, the team will examine the impact of existing maternity delivery models on women’s health and wellness.



“What is it that makes a community well?” She questioned. “[What] strategies reintegrate Indigenous knowledge that has been lost through colonial processes like residential schooling?”

Researchers want to study how Indigenous values, teachings, and stories can improve maternal health care. “All of those things are the essence of community life,” said Moffitt.

The research spans four jurisdictions: rural Manitoba, Nunavut, Nunavik, and the Northwest Territories.

For her contribution to the project, Moffitt will study the midwifery program in Fort Smith as well as how women from outlying communities must travel to Yellowknife to give birth at the hospital.



“We will begin interviewing women themselves and their families about the birthing process,” Moffitt said.

“But we will also interview policymakers about how we got these policies. Where did they come from? We’ll talk to practitioners, like midwives and nurses, some physicians.

“And so together, we will try to influence policy to improve maternal services.”

Moffitt noted that while women can now bring support with them when they leave their communities to give birth, they are still leaving their families behind. She would like to see improvements made so that giving birth is less disruptive to family life.

The project will be managed by the University of Manitoba and will be led by principal investigators Dr Kellie Thiessen, an assistant professor, and Katherine Whitecloud, a traditional knowledge keeper of the Wipazoka Wakpa Dakota Nation.

“Through research, we learned that the sacred spirit, the spirit of a child, has been taken out of the remote communities here in Manitoba and across the country and this has had a detrimental impact on the overall community,” said Thiessen in a statement.

And we would also say, here in the Northwest Territories this has had a detrimental impact on the overall community and the sense of community,” echoed Moffitt.

‘We were thrilled’

The project’s full title is: “Welcoming the ‘Sacred Spirit’ (child): Connecting Indigenous and Western ‘ways of knowing’ to inform future policy partnerships to optimize maternal health service delivery initiatives in remote Canadian regions.”



Funding is provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, one of 371 grants approved out of 2,484 applications.

“We were thrilled [to receive the grant],” said Moffitt.

“This is something that across the country, as feminists, as women, as people who are entrenched in birthing and want to see improvement … this is really important work.

“We’re hoping [the outcomes] will really influence the government, and we’re thinking it’ll be better for women and families.”