A training program for Indigenous doulas is being hailed as a step toward restoring Indigenous approaches to birth in the Northwest Territories.
The virtual training, offered to Indigenous NWT residents at the end of July through a partnership between the Northern Birthwork Collective and Zaagiᐟidiwin, invited aspiring doulas to learn more about supporting Indigenous families through pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and more.
Treiva Plamondon, a 22-year-old from Hay River, was one of 11 people to participate.
She says when she learned about the role of a doula for the first time, she thought “that would be so good because you’re there for support, you’re not doing the medical stuff – it’s straight supporting families.”
Plamondon, who is Métis, said despite having previous doula experience and taking other doula training programs, this was the first training she had attended that focused on “the Indigenous way of birth.”
She described the training as a reminder to reconnect with her community.
“[For] a lot of Indigenous people, all of our traditions have been taken away from us,” said Plamondon. “We can ask our Elders and our community about what our traditions were and hopefully we can bring that back.
“I think that’s really important for our people and I think that’s what’s missing in our care, the support for Indigenous people.”
Healing the helper
Melissa Brown, who is Anishinaabe Dine and a registered midwife, co-facilitated the training alongside Candace Neumann, an Indigenous doula.
Together, Brown and Neumann run Zaagiᐟidiwin, a grassroots organization that also offers Indigenous midwifery workshops and healthy sexuality workshops among other mentorships and programs that support Indigenous communities.
Moving the training to a virtual setting as a result of the pandemic made the program more accessible, according to Brown. Trainees included labour and delivery nurses, a new mother, and trained doulas.
Brown said some participants felt previous doula training they had received “wasn’t enough to take care of our families, and it wasn’t focused on Indigenous traditions and some of the impacts of colonization on the families that we work with.”
Colonization, grief, and loss are covered over the course of the four days, as are trauma-informed care, 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive care, and harm reduction.
Brown said harm reduction is a “cornerstone” of the work.
“That’s a really important piece that a lot of communities want to know more about – how can they best provide that non-judgmental, compassionate care to families,” she said.
“Talking through those real-life scenarios, and having the space to share about their experiences and things like that, is valuable.”
The training focuses on healing, not only in relation to the families the doulas plan to support, but for the trainees too.
“As Indigenous people ourselves, we’ve also been impacted, our families have been impacted. And some of us carry some of that unresolved intergenerational trauma,” Brown said.
“People say, ‘I didn’t realize how much personally I would get out of this, and how healing it would be for me.’”
The NWT non-profit that hosted the training, the Northern Birthwork Collective, celebrated its one-year anniversary in June. Co-founders Dehga Scott and Sabrina Flack are working on expanding the collective’s offerings.
Scott, who is Tłı̨chǫ Dene, is working on a training program for Indigenous doulas that is NWT-specific and will touch on traditional practices across Denendeh.
“My whole thought process behind this was that it needed to be Indigenous-specific, and we needed to revitalize and awaken our traditions and cultures around birth work and birth practices within the Northwest Territories to keep these alive … for the future generations,” said Scott.
Flack, a full-spectrum doula, said hosting the Zaagiᐟidiwin training program served two purposes.
“This is an opportunity, one, to train more birth workers who are interested in taking part in the training but we don’t have one available for them yet,” said Flack.
“And then the second part of it was a little bit of research for Dehga in developing her own and really sort of seeing what is relevant.”
While Zaagiᐟidiwin’s training curriculum was developed in Manitoba, Scott wants the collective’s training to reflect the traditions, ceremonies, and values of every region in the NWT.
Scott and Flack are working on assembling a knowledge-keepers’ advisory committee that will include a knowledge-keeper or Elder from each region to advise on curriculum content.
The collective hopes to begin piloting a training program by the spring or summer of 2022.
Plamondon is a member of the collective but hasn’t started accepting clients yet.
One day, she hopes to start her own doula business.
“My dream is to make connections with people in isolated communities that don’t have the support in their community,” said Plamondon.
“I think this pandemic showed you can do that.”