Helping Inuit midwives accompany clients who have to travel south to give birth could be one way to better support Inuit-led midwifery services and Inuit parents, speakers in the National Inuit Midwifery Forum discussed on Tuesday. (Image courtesy of Pauktuutit)

Inuit-led midwifery services should be supported in south, midwives say

Indigenous midwives, parents share ideas to improve access to Inuit midwifery services at virtual forum

By Madalyn Howitt

Expectant Inuit parents would be better served if they had access to their own cultural midwife services, even when they must travel south to give birth, the National Inuit Midwifery Forum heard Tuesday.

The three-day virtual seminar includes presentations and panels discussing how governments, health-care workers and communities can improve access and awareness of Inuit-led midwifery services across Inuit Nunangat.

Organized by Inuit women’s organization Pauktuutit and the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives, its first day was Tuesday.

In a panel discussion, speakers shared their experiences of giving birth in a southern hospital or of accompanying a partner to give birth.

Some suggested ways the experience could feel more supportive and culturally appropriate for Inuit, including allowing Inuit midwives to travel south with expectant parents.

Other ways that were suggested include having a freezer with country food they could access at the southern hospital, and having designated accommodations available near southern hospitals so family members can be close to the expectant parents.

The stress faced by Inuit who live in the North but who must travel far from their home communities to give birth, or simply receive basic pregnancy care can be avoided with better funding and support for Inuit midwifery training and education, experts said.

“Interfering with Indigenous birthing knowledge and Indigenous birth workers is a direct act of white supremacy, genocide and ethnic cleansing,” said Karen Lawford, a registered midwife and professor of gender studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

She referred to the tragic case of Silatik Qavviq, a woman from Sanikiluaq who died in a Winnipeg hospital in December 2021 from complications related to COVID-19.

Qavviq had been medically evacuated to Winnipeg to give birth, but died a few weeks later after contracting the virus.

Lawford questioned why Qavviq could not have been transferred instead to Inukjuak or Kuujjuaq in Nunavik, two communities closer to Sanikiluaq that offer Inuit midwifery services.

“Travelling for birth is a result of a colonial, western-biomedical model, and it is an unsafe practice that is unsustainable,” Lawford said.

“For generations, women have relied on local midwives who traditionally filled the role of providing reproductive health care to expectant mothers,” said Pauktuutit president Gerri Sharpe during the forum.

Giving birth to a child was essentially a family and community-centered event based on longstanding traditional birthing practices, she said.

But Inuit-led midwifery services have been removed from communities and replaced by a Western system of medicalized birthing practices that forces expectant parents to travel far from their home communities during a vulnerable time in their lives, she said.

“The lack of social support causes financial stress and loss of wages when we must be away from home for extended periods of time,” Sharpe said.

“Inuit are often treated by health-care providers who are unfamiliar with our language and culture, making us more vulnerable to experiencing racism and discrimination in Canada’s health-care system.”

The National Inuit Midwifery Forum will continue Wednesday and Thursday from noon to 4 p.m. People interested in attending virtually can register at Pauktuutit’s website.

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(27) Comments:

  1. Posted by Really? on

    “Other ways that were suggested include having a freezer with country food they could access at the southern hospital, and having designated accommodations available near southern hospitals so family members can be close to the expectant parents.”

    So, the virtual forum has concluded that they should have free hotels for their families and free country food. This is truly groundbreaking. Wow!

    • Posted by Mr.Miyagi on

      Realistically, that ain’t happening and it shouldn’t.

    • Posted by Judas Henry on

      That’s just so ….so… insane.
      Can we get free Jigs Dinner too?
      Steak? Lobster?…..

  2. Posted by Slander on

    Did anyone tell the professor of gender studies that when a woman is referred to southern urban centres to deliver, it’s because she is a high-risk case? Most women want to be where it is safest for them and their babies.

    Women from Nunavut have resisted being pressured to give birth in the smaller communities. Not everyone wants a higher-risk situation, even if they are a low-risk case. Things can go very bad very fast and unexpectedly, requiring a colonial C-section. Trying to keep a mother and baby alive and uninjured is not ethnic cleansing, it’s the opposite.

    • Posted by No Moniker on

      The consistent obeisance to the priests and priestesses of fringe rhetoric, residing in the towers of our universities, unburdened by rigour, invigorated by low friction, low energy narratives—birthing in the south is akin to ethnic cleansing—is irresponsible, intellectually bankrupt and, I agree, near slanderous.

      The reckless dumping of claims like this into our information space without any effort made to reflect seriously on them, without any attempt to add balance or context, is the modern equivalent to the yellow journalism of the late 19th century.

      You should be ashamed Nunatsiaq, why aren’t you?

      • Posted by Reckless nonsense indeed on


    • Posted by No Moniker on

      The obeisance of Nunatsiaq to the priests and priestesses of fringe rhetoric, residing in the towers of our universities, unburdened by rigour, invigorated by low friction, low energy narratives—birthing in the south is akin to genocide—is irresponsible, intellectually bankrupt and the modern equivalent to the yellow journalism of the late 19th century.

      • Posted by Concerned Kabloona on

        Agreed that the southern academic who sees herself as all-knowing and all-wise is out to lunch, but why is Nunatsiaq to blame for her wacko views?

        • Posted by No Moniker on

          The reflex to amplify fringe perspectives without concern for counter discussion or nuance signals that these kinds of opinions should be treated as norms.

          This is attributable, in part, to our cultural deference toward academics, in this case a ‘professor’ (the modern-secular priesthood? Our new Shamans?). What beyond the magical authority of a title makes the claim that what happened to Silatik Qavviq was an act of genocide?

          This isn’t only absurd, it’s a reckless idea to ‘float’ without erecting some guardrails around it.

          • Posted by Paradigm Shift on

            Agreed 100%

            We see this problem with media all over, sensational claims get the lots of attention, without regard for possible effects.

            What, for example, are the effects of telling people repeatedly that there group is experiencing a “literal genocide”?

            Do you think about that, Nunatsiaq? Or do you just see a nice little harvest of clicks and comments you can boast about to potential advertisers?

    • Posted by Mr.Miyagi on

      Realistically, sending a woman to deliver in the south, during hospital outbreaks, while they’re considered high risk… I mean, should I even have to say it? It wasn’t because she was high risk that they sent her there. It’s because they didn’t have adequate staff or equipment in the clinic located in Sanikiluaq. Then, due to catching covid, they had to get the baby out of there ASAP. She then passed covid to her child after birth.

      All most all the people from there go to deliver in Winnipeg. Not because they’re high risk, either. I’ve only ever heard of a few from sanikiluaq going to inukjuak to give birth.

      In Inukjuak, they’ve birthed so many babies very safely. All around nunavik we have midwives who could be put to use.

      Why did they spend thousands of dollars when it costs about 200$ to send them to the mainland to give birth? Especially during a pandemic and especially when pregnant women were considered high risk of severe illness when it comes to covid?

      • Posted by No Moniker on

        I don’t know why they did that, Mr. Miyagi… But wouldn’t you agree, there is considerable room between a poor decision and an act of genocide?

        • Posted by Mr.Miyagi on

          Yes, I agree but Cultural Genocide is still very present, and mistakes where ones life is lost shouldn’t just happen when there are a bunch of red flags that they missed. What’s more revolting is that people are mad about this article and not about how someone lost their life where their baby will never get to know them. Where their husband and their ton of kids won’t ever see their mother/wife anymore.

          I think the person behind the quote was lost in emotion, as I would be, too.

          • Posted by No Moniker on

            Isn’t it a truism to say ‘mistakes shouldn’t happen’ yet we know it is almost impossible to avoid them? Of course people should be held responsible if their neglect was the cause.

            Is ‘cultural genocide’ synonymous with ‘cultural loss’ to you, or does it mean something different?

  3. Posted by Disconnected from reality on

    “Interfering with Indigenous birthing knowledge and Indigenous birth workers is a direct act of white supremacy, genocide.”

    Back when I went to University, Professors were serious people. They said serious things that were thought through.

    What happened?

    • Posted by Concerned Kabloona on

      As a former professor, I’d like to think that some of us were serious. But then we also have the lunatic, ultra-woke fringe …

  4. Posted by Code Yellow on

    No further comments allowed, Nunatsiaq? Why is that?

  5. Posted by Providing Good Healthcare is now Genocide on

    I don’t see any real suggestions by this forum, aside from providing country food and accommodations that are close to hospitals. The reality is that there is not, and likely will not be anytime soon, the proper facilities and staff available to deliver babies safely in all Nunavut communities. Even if you have a midwife, there is a risk of needing a C-section or other medical intervention that a midwife is not qualified for. Would you like to have more women being medevaced to the south during labour?

    Edmonton has a good hospital, with a specific Indigenous Wellness Centre, that provides excellent care.

    If I could make a real suggestion, it would be to amend the policy so that a couple’s children can travel with them. When you are having your 3rd child, what are you supposed to do with your other young two? Leave them behind for over 3 weeks? With who? What if you don’t have family that can take care of them?

    • Posted by ICFI on

      Families with Inuit kids can apply to Inuit Child First Initiative (AKA Jordan’s Principle) for funding that covers plane tickets and accommodations for children to go on medical travel with their parents. They just have to explain how it is in the best interest of the child (ex. no safe childcare options at home).

      • Posted by Still Territorial Citizens Accessing Healthcare on

        What about families with no Inuit heritage?

        • Posted by The Rub on

          Now you have identified what is clear discrimination on behalf of our government. For all other Canadians you are on your own.

          • Posted by ICFI on

            Inuit Child First Initiative/Jordan’s Principle exists because of the inequity in accessing health and other services that Indigenous peoples face in Canada ( This program exists because of a lawsuit against the feds. If you truly feel this is unfair maybe you should sue them for discrimination?

            But lets be real here, non-Inuit have undeniable privilege in Nunavut and Canada, just look at the wage gap as an example. There should be programs to help mitigate those inequities. If you don’t want to live somewhere with programming and benefits for Inuit, move out of Inuit Nunangat!

            • Posted by Untermensch on

              This week in social justice fallacies: the wage gap as evidence of privilege.

              In reality Inuit have exclusive economic privileges embedded into Nunavut’s legal-structural system. The system, to put it differently, discriminates in their favour.

              That the majority of Inuit have yet to convert those embedded privileges into outcomes is a fact about economic and cultural development.

              Curious, what the word ‘inequity’ means to you? Unequal outcomes or unequal opportunities?

            • Posted by Discriminated on

              The child first initiative exists because Inuit say they are being treated different that First Nations who get Jordan’s principle. Typically government can legitimately discriminate in favour of populations if they are addressing a systematic issue. When northerners are giving birth and two families have young children and no child care, why is only one segment of the population, the majority population in Nunavut, entitled to government support? The answer is because it costs money and most people who are not eligible for the child first initiative have health insurance via their employer because they work and earn it.

            • Posted by svob on

              ICFI so you would agree that basing funding decisions on income rather than race would result in a more just process?

              • Posted by Ricky Bobby on

                Helping the poor isn’t good enough for politicians, they must be bipoc also for assistance, ideally poor and bipoc. When MLAs are earning six figures and have social housing and access the ICFI it is like I am living in insanity.

            • Posted by Seriously? on

              Except it’s not about that at all. Way to spin the damn narrative to support your own opinion and ignore the real problem. No one here is saying that Inuit are undeserving of the benefits offered to them.
              In fact, we all know as a fact that there in Nunavut there are endless opportunities provided to Inuit groups in terms of free education, housing, employment opportunities, job training, food security… should I go on?? It’s not about southerners demanding these rights be taken away, and no one is suggesting that.
              If you want to talk about pay inequity, talk about why the available resources to Inuit often go completely un-utilized or at the very least, extremely under-utilized.
              Why is that? This is where the real issues lie, where real social change can happen. Other Canadian’s from around the country (lots who have every right to be here by the way, as this is all a part of Canada contrary to your obvious bias) accept positions that offer the exact same pay and wage benefits as the jobs offered to Inuit- which are offered to Inuit first and sometimes only offered to Inuit, completely excluding all other social groups, no matter what social barriers they may or may not have had. The pay inequity issue has nothing to do with discrimination, and everything to do with not taking advantage of the benefits available to you, all the while complaining when someone else works their ass off for the same opportunity, without any extra help or special services. There is inequity everywhere: it does not just focus on one special group.


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