The Crees of Quebec expand home birth options

More Crees from northern Quebec will be able to give birth in their home communities – as was the case before the arrival of Europeans – as midwifery services continue to develop in the territory.

In November, a new temporary birthing center in Chisasibi welcomed her first baby.

And now, the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay is creating an education program on the territory to train Cree midwives.

“Bringing in new life is an integral part of community health – and by health I mean the four aspects of health: spiritual, mental, emotional and physical,” said Jasmine Chatelain, Registered Midwife and planning, programming and research officer. (PPRO) with Cree Health’s Eeyou Istchee Midwifery Education Program.

The program does not yet have an official name.

The arrival of a new life is an integral part of community health.​​​​– Jasmine Chatelain, midwife

The health board has been working since 2004 to bring childbirth back to the territory.

And between 2019 and 2021, more than 57 Cree babies were born on the territory with the help of midwives.

Currently, there are no Cree midwives and Chatelain says Cree Health hopes a local program will change that.

“Our program learns by doing,” Chatelain said, adding that trainees will be paired with an experienced midwife.

“As soon as a student begins their program, they are joined at the hip by a midwife or some other type of health care provider or knowledge keeper.”

A reenactment of Chisasibi’s birth in 2016 with knowledge keepers Martha Tapiatic Pachano, left, and Jane Matthew. (T.Philiptchenko/ CCSSSBJ)

Currently, there are two ways to become a midwife in Quebec: through a four-year university program or through a program like the one Cree Health is creating. Quebec’s Midwifery Act gives Indigenous communities the power to train their own midwives.

Leaving family to go to school in the south is a huge barrier for many Cree to become midwives, Chatelain said.

“Education programs in the south are not structured to match the way the Crees learn and teach,” Chatelain said, adding that the Cree curriculum is built around Indigenous ways of learning and for the purpose of to reduce barriers.

“So instead of trying to put a square peg in a round hole, instead of trying to force the Cree to adapt to another way of doing things, we would like to help people learn how they learn and where they live,” Châtelain said.

Cree program modeled on Nunavik

Cree newborn Cayde Snowboy with his grandmother in 2019 in Chisasibi, Quebec. (Tatiana Philiptchenko/CBHSSJB)

The Cree education program is modeled on the Inuulitsiviup Nutarataatitsijingita Ilisarningata Aulagusinga (INIA) education program with the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services. INIA was the very first midwifery program in Canada, launched in 1986.

Now, in Nunavik, there are 10 Inuit midwives and 15 student midwives, and more than 92% of babies in Nunavik are born in the territory.

“They have very, very good results,” Chatelain said, adding that the statistics for mortality, complications and premature pregnancies are better than in the South.

We are happy to be part of the process with them.​​​​​– Arian Navickas, Inuulitsivik Maternities, Nunavik, Que.

Nunavik Health also shares its knowledge and provides the CCSSSBJ with a large part of INIA’s educational material.

“We are thrilled to be part of the process with them,” said Arian Navickas, Midwifery Management Support for Inuulitsivik Maternities, Nunavik, Que. in an email request for information.

Opening of a temporary birth center in Chisasibi

Another birthing option was offered to Cree parents late last year, with the opening of a temporary birthing home in Chisasibi, which is the largest of the Cree communities, with a population of over of 5,000 people.

In 2022, construction will begin on permanent birthing centers in Chisasibi, as well as regional centers in Mistissini and Waskaganish, according to the Cree Board of Health’s website.

Opening of the temporary birthing center in Chisasibi, Que. December 1, 2021. (left to right) CBHSSJB President Bertie Wapachee, Marcella Washipabano, Sylvie Carignan, Gabrielle Dallaire, Maude Poulin, Denise Perusse, Arlene Swallow, Lisa Bobbish, Mariève Hémond, Sara-Michelle Bresee, Margaret Dick, Sarah Tapiatic, Natasha Bates (Marcel Grogorick/CCSSSBJ)

The temporary home in Chisasibi has a comfortable bed, a bathtub and access to a kitchen and aims to put expectant mothers at ease, according to Denise Perusse, birthing center coordinator for the council of cry health.

“The idea is that when you come here, ‘home’ is the key word,” Perusse said.

The idea is that when you come here, “home” is the key word.​​– Denise Perusse, Birthing Center Coordinator, Cree Health

“You feel like you can come in. You can take off your coat, make yourself a coffee or tea and relax. The room is meant to be intimate and relaxing.”

For the Chairman of the Cree Health Board, Bertie Wapachee, this is a real step forward for the Cree Nation.

“It’s overwhelming to see this in place,” Wapachee said in a statement.

“As we expand, every young mother will be able to benefit from this service. This is quite an achievement for our nation,” he said.

Cousins ​​Cayde and Ela Snowboy in 2019 in Chisasibi, Quebec. (Tatiana Philiptchenko/ CCSSSBJ)

Chatelain said Cree Health does not yet have a firm start date for the education program, but they are currently targeting June 2022. It will take between four and a half and five and a half years for a Cree student. to become a certified midwife. She says interest in the program is already “overwhelming”.

And she says having Cree midwives deliver Cree babies will make all the difference in the world.

“It will have really positive ripple effects throughout the community in ways you can’t even imagine,” Chatelain said.

“Eeyou Istchee has always had midwives, and it’s time to restore that.”

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