Restoring First Nation birth knowledge and practices and the impact on mental wellness: reclaiming space

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Sinclair, Stephanie
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The research focuses on the impact of practicing and promoting Indigenous knowledge on mental wellness. Mental wellness as defined by First Nations includes feeling hope, belonging, meaning, and purpose. For this study, First Nations birth helpers were trained to provide services in two northern Manitoba First Nation communities and in Winnipeg. Of the thirty-six birth helpers who were trained, ten were interviewed for the analysis of this thesis. The project was developed using Indigenous research methodology, where the interview process was developed in partnership with the community advisory circles. The interview included questions about their experiences and how being a birth helper relates to their own mental wellness. The interviews were conducted over the phone or in-person, and then transcribed, validated by participants, and analyzed using reflective thematic analysis. The results indicate that reclaiming and restoring birth knowledge impacts hope, belonging, meaning and purpose for the birth helpers, and by extension their families and community. Birth helpers are revitalizing Indigenous knowledge which has historically been held by women to support mothers and families with culturally-based care. Prior to the medicalization of birth, the delivery of a baby was a community event that provided community members and families the ability to celebrate, welcome, and support the babies being born into their nations with culture, language, and connection to place. Reclaiming and practicing birth traditions is the first step to returning birth knowledge and eventually birth to communities. This work echoes the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action 12 and 22, which call for culturally appropriate early childhood education programs for families and the recognition and use of Indigenous health knowledge within the health care systems. To support the expansion of birth helpers, further training is required to meet the needs of all First Nations. Mentorship, and partnerships are required to integrate the birth helper role into existing systems of support.
birth helper, doula, Indigeous Knowledge, mental wellness, First Nation, Indigenous