Indigenous Midwife Works to Enhance Culturally Safe and Respectful Care within Maternity Care in Urban Setting
2020 is the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. In celebration and recognition, we will feature stories all year long of nurses and midwives from across the province and the great work they do for BC First Nations people and communities.
For Tia Felix, her sister's home birth was a beautiful and empowering experience she'll never forget. As a young Indigenous woman living in T'kemlups te Secwépemc in BC's Interior region, her sister feared systemic racism within the healthcare system and preferred to stay at home where she felt safe, surrounded by her family and traditions.
Tia is a proud Secwépemc Indigenous Midwife who works at Strathcona Midwifery Collective, Lu'ma Medical Centre, Kilala Lelum, and UNYA (Urban Native Youth Association) located throughout Vancouver and the surrounding area, including the Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighbourhood. She supports families who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) and provides culturally safe, trauma-informed care.
A common fear held by her community is having babies apprehended and mislabeling mothers as being unfit to parent. This injustice inspired Tia to pursue a career in midwifery. She says she feels very strongly that keeping families together is imperative to healing, empowering birth experiences, and decolonizing healthcare. Her sister's positive experience with a midwife at her home waterbirth was also influential in choosing this path.
“We [Indigenous people] have been practicing as midwives for generations, but we have lost some of our practices due to the harmful impacts of colonization, including forced sterilization, residential school, the Sixties Scoop, Indian Hospitals, forced evacuations, murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, and how there are currently more children apprehended and in foster care than the cumulative total of children who were in residential school," says Tia. “Indigenous midwifery was criminalized. We are reclaiming our language, practices, and ways of knowing to provide a better future for generations to come, and to keep our families together."
Today, Indigenous midwifery involves understanding and acknowledging the history and negative impacts of colonization and weaving that knowledge into culturally safe and respectful care. It also involves reclaiming traditions and including them in the predominant Western model of care. Traditionally, Indigenous midwives worked with expecting families before pregnancy and for years after birth, providing cultural practices such as walking through moon time, welcoming babies through ceremony, and providing access to traditional medicines.
As an Indigenous midwife, Tia provides holistic care: offering a blend of traditional and Western medical practices. Approximately 70 per cent of Tia's clients are Indigenous, and her work varies from providing maternity care and delivering babies, to collaborating with physicians, nurses, social navigators, Elders, and traditional birth keepers/doulas. Additionally, you may find her planning prenatal classes, navigating evacuee care from rural/remote areas throughout BC, or teaching parents and babies their first words in Secwepemcstn.
Tia also helps clients navigate the health care system and advocates for their rights and wishes to be heard. For example, she can help arrange a home birth for an Indigenous mother whose family has a history of child apprehension and fears a hospital setting.
She works with her clients through innovative organizations such as the Urban Native Youth Association–where Tia has expanded further to develop an Urban Indigenous Midwifery Outreach Program at BC Women's Hospital and St. Paul's Hospital–and Heron's Nest, a program where young parents from the BIPOC community come together for pre and post-natal care while continuing their education.
Thank you to Tia, all Indigenous midwives, and allies throughout the province for your tireless work to reclaim traditions and support families in our most vulnerable communities.