MLAs want more clarification on traditional Inuit midwives

New midwife law faces lengthy delivery


MLAs have sent Nunavut's proposed midwifery profession act, Bill 20, back to the drawing board, because they say the health department never responded to their concerns.

Speaking in the legislature March 11, David Alagalak, the MLA for Arviat and chairman of the standing committee on health and education, said the committee "certainly supports" the principle and intent of Bill 20.

But Alagalak said a number of questions "remain unanswered despite repeated requests" to Leona Aglukkaq, the health minister.

Alagalak said "the actual practice of traditional Inuit midwives is not clearly defined" in Bill 20, although the bill mentions traditional midwifery in several places.

"The standing committee supports this government's efforts to incorporate Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit… but we need something more substantial than vague and undefined references," he said.

Alagalak also said Bill 20 is unclear about how midwives will be covered by liability insurance.

"Even though bringing forward civil suits is not a traditional practice in Inuit society, it is becoming more common in this modern world," he said.

Several organizations, which also reviewed Bill 20, submitted their comments to the standing committee.

We are "fully supportive of this Bill 20," said Natsiq Alainga-Kangok, president of Nunavut's midwifery association.

But the Ajunnginiq Centre, the Inuit unit within the National Aboriginal Health Centre in Ottawa, and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. are each critical of the bill.

They single out its lack of a definition for traditional Inuit midwifery and the bill's "grandmothering" clause.

This clause exempts traditional Inuit midwives from completing formal studies in midwifery, but it only applies to those already practicing midwifery now.

NTI says Bill 20 effectively prevents women from studying under traditional Inuit midwives, because Nunavut won't recognize their training in the future.

"Once the current traditional Inuit midwives die off, Inuit wishing to be midwives will only be able to be recognized under the western midwifery model," NTI says.

This means "a contemporary Inuk" who wants to train under a traditional Inuit midwife won't be recognized as a midwife, NTI says.

"The act excludes further generations of traditional Inuit midwives and might negatively affect traditional Inuit midwifery culture."

NTI also wants Nunavut's midwifery law to allow women to decide whether they want to give birth with doctors, professionally trained midwives or traditional Inuit midwives.

Alagalak said the committee "looks forward" to working with the health department to amend Bill 20 so that the committee can make a final report to the legislature during spring session, which starts May 22.

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