"We must and will have women leaders among us. Native women are going to raise the roof and decry the dirty house which patriarchy and racism have built on our backs. But first we must see ourselves as women: powerful, sensuous beings in need of compassion and tenderness." -Lee Maracle

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Doula Discourse: Ondaadiziike: Birth and the need for doulas in Native American communities

*Note: Hi, everyone. I'm trying to get this message out by any means possible. I'll be submitting to a birth journal, and asking for guest posts at other blogs. Please share this as much as you can. It's important. Miigwetch.*

Ondaadiziike. The Ojibwe phrase for giving birth. When I was writing this article, I was hoping to combine ondaadiziike with the Ojibwe words for safety and comfort. I was surprised that the dictionaries I consulted didn’t include these words. So I was left with just ondaadiziike. No safety, no comfort to accompany it. This is reflective of modern birth culture in Native American communities, I think. Women (and girls) are giving birth without the accompaniment of safety and comfort. Modern day pre, ante, and post natal care for brown women in the United States is at times unsafe, and usually uncomfortable. Racism, sexism, poverty, and isolation have left women and their babies in desperate need for support, love, and compassion.     

It wasn’t always this way. Native women were long respected as life givers. Our ancestors had mysterious, spirited reproductive powers. Women were forbidden to enter the dance arena during their moon time (a practice still respected in modern Powwow culture); not because they were viewed as dirty or hysterical, but because these women were so powerful during this time in the life cycle that they could take away power from anyone in the circle. So they stayed out in respect to their community members. Women took care of each other, Aunties, Grannies, Mothers, and Sisters. But women were also independent, knowledgeable, and assertive in their bodily rights. Reproductive culture varied from tribe to tribe but one thing was constant: women’s powers were sacred.

Enter Western patriarchy. Native women were subjected to horrors manifested in all aspects of bodily harm. Our ancestors were kidnapped, gang raped, and fed to war dogs. Eaten for entertainment in circus like manner. Forced to marry white men and birth babies alone, without the help of their beloved Sisters. Traditional knowledge of menstruation, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding were lost, and Native women today still pay the price. Of all the ethnicities in the US, Native women suffer the most when it comes to birth. We have some of the highest teenage pregnancy rates, pre-term birth rates, maternal and neonatal morbidity rates, and some of the lowest breastfeeding rates. Reproduction in our community has become dangerous and unpredictable at worst, and casual at best as women forget just how powerful their bodies can be. Studies have proved that these racial disparities exist because of poverty and racism.  

I’ve been inflicted with the pain of my sisters. I have dreamt about it and received pleas for help from the ancestors who visit me in my sleep. Doula care is going to be incredibly important in mending the disparities in pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. I realize this. I need my sisters to realize this, too, and step up to fill that space along with me. We need Native women to become doulas, certified or not. We need a group of women to get together and create a resource for Native doulas and their families; a resource describing and honoring the traditions of our ancestors that includes a dictionary dedicated to Native birthing practices and care.  

We need women to learn how to navigate and negotiate modern and traditional medicine and birthing ways with confidence, sensitivity, and power. We need women to come back to the communities they came from and offer their support to their Sisters. No woman should be without the knowledge of how to take care of her body in her life. No woman should suffer traumatic pregnancies and births.


  1. thank you so much for this post! my own mother gave birth to me at 16 and my 2 sisters by 18. She was moved to a mostly white suburb and was the only Latina she knew of. She suffered serious postpartum depression and I believe if she had been in a supportive and caring atmosphere next to her sisters and a community she would've been saved this heartache.

  2. Thank you! I love that this is being brought to birth communities. (I found it via Radical Doula on Facebook) I myself am caucasian but work for the rights of all women. Especially in areas of the body. Birth and pregnancy (and breastfeeding) being my passion. I'm training to be a midwife and would love to learn more about any resources you find or organizations that could use support or need exposure. Thank you for working for this.


  3. Thank you both so much for sharing your thoughts! I am still learning about various community and organizational efforts to make Indigenous birth safer, and I will post about them as they come along. I am not only concerned with safer birth for Native women, but with traditional and spiritual birth as well. Birth that honors our ancestors and future generations. I appreciate everyone who read this piece and everyone who has helped me spread the word by featuring this article on their website. We are cultivating great things here, I just know it!

  4. Thank you for paving the way for me as a woman of Maori descent. I have been a Tapuhi (Doula) for approximately 13 years, with a specific passion for bringing back the my peoples birthing rites and encouraging our Maori woman to bring birthing back, to own it, be instinctual and own the rites to their bodies as a whole. We have been forced in to the confines of pre-european ideals for far too long.

  5. Hi Miss Tamaki! I'm so glad we found each other. It is great to connect with fellow Indigenous birth workers! I see on my other post that you are considering certification... Please let me know if you do pursue that and what you think! I took my first certification class today and it was very exciting, all the energy of the women in the room who are stoked about birth. I feel great things are happening all around the world, and perhaps we can help things turn around for the positive. Keep in touch, and feel free to add your comments to my posts so I can always have another perspective to think about. :)

  6. You are so welcome, I have taken my next steps to certification by enrolling in the next intake of Doula's here in Sydney, Australia. While it is still out of the scope of my ideal indigenous teachings, from a practice perspective it will have to suffice. I have recently added to my kit of knowledge an ancient practice we call Romiromi in our native tongue. It encompasses deep cellular level massage, to aid in toxin blockages etc and through this I anticipate haputanga (pregnancy) massage. This will bring a whole different aspect to my doula work and hopefully encourage more of our Maori woman living here in Australia to get back to our birthing ways. I apologize for my delay in replying back, I failed to include an email notification so i could stay up to date, so have sorted that part. I look forward to sharing my perspective :)

  7. I can't say I know of a word for safety at all......but a word you could use would be nayendam......feeling settled, comfortable, at peace with your mind. Not something that goes hand in hand with many births, no matter the community, but something each birthing mother should strive for and should have in her birthing environment.

  8. Hello! Is this blog still active? I would like to invite you to post on my NY-based blog. Lets chat. My website is and my twitter is @luciavioletta So happy to read this.