Sovereignty and Self-Determination

For me personally, midwifery was another expression of activism. It was a movement, not just for healthy moms and babies, it was a movement around sovereignty, it was a movement about self-determination and empowerment.” –Lesley Paulette, Midwife from Fort Smith, NWT


What bold, powerful words. Some might even say radical. I say they should be foundational principles for any midwife.

This is a beautiful video from the National Aboriginal Midwives Council. I love the quote above from Lesley Paulette, because it completely captures my personal calling to midwifery. It’s not just about beautiful babies, as lovely as they are. If I wanted to work with just babies, I’d pursue training as a pediatrician, or pediatric nurse practitioner. What I’m passionate about is supporting and empowering individuals to engage in their own health and well-being, for themselves and their families.*

My passion for midwifery also embraces the ideas and practices around cultural sovereignty, as Leslie says. I want to honor the traditions of the people that lived here before the arrival of the Europeans. I want the world to hear the stories of the black Grand Midwives from the American South who kept home birth midwifery alive before the Frontier Nursing Service existed. Most of all, I want to affirm that birth is a cultural event, not just a medical one.

I believe it is part of the midwife’s job to help maintain these cultural traditions, to support self-determination and sovereignty. Everyone deserves a midwife that they can connect with, a midwife they can trust, someone  who understands and values their culture not as “background” or “history,” but as a living, breathing force that is central to their identity.

As Katsi Cook says in another video on the site, midwifery is about building healthy communities, and the first step is growing midwives within the communities in which they will serve.

Watch the whole video here…as well as this one that covers more of the history and importance of Aboriginal midwifery in Canada.

*I used to say midwifery is about supporting women…and it most often it is…but I also want to use more inclusive language, because not all midwifery clients identify as women. For this reason, I am moving away from only using women as the identifier of those whom I may work with.

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