Tag Archives: Waneek Horn-Miller

Working it Out Together recap: Birthing on her own terms

The second episode of Working it Out Together explores the positive ripple effect that childbirth creates via a woman within her community. It is about empowerment. It also critically examines, from the perspective of colonization, the effect that western medicine has had on the process of birthing in Indigenous communities across Canada.

We begin with the idea that women’s bodies are designed for childbirth. But the process of childbirth also acts to connect  women of a community together.  Historically, one woman within the community held a position of great distinction: the midwife.  It was the function of traditional midwifery to attend to the emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental health needs of expectant mothers, their newborns, and the families welcoming their newborns. However, with the invasion of western medicine came the belief that birthing was dangerous and thus required powerful people–educated physicians–to control the procedure. Governmental control* of women’s reproduction persisted and midwifery as a whole, across Canada, was outlawed. This disconnected women from their bodies and fathers/families from the process as well.

Traditionally, the cyclical process of birth is seen as a means of renewal and hope,  restoring balance to the community at large. The western practice of removing childbirth from the community to the sterile environment of the hospital, isolates women during the procedure, necessarily severing the initial ties between mother, child, and community. This in turn has created yet another social fracture among the people of the community and has disrupted the emotional and social balance in people’s lives for generations.

We are also reminded that historically, midwives attended successful births in very challenging environments, with limited resources, when compared to the living conditions that are more common today.  In this context then, trained midwives are able to recognise possible complications that could threaten the health of both mother and child. If  suitable medical instrumentation is also available, midwives can make these diagnoses well in advance, thus ensuring proper care for their patients.

The entire scenario further complicates birthing for women who live in the north. Communities that lack birthing centres are forced to fly expectant mothers south to the nearest hospital weeks in advance of their due dates. This removes them from family and friends for weeks at a time. Children are left missing their mothers; fathers and families are left struggling to care for distraught children. This is done because of the “what if” scenario, a plausible argument. However,  the added emotional stress this places on a community and/or family, coupled with the financial stress caused by extended hospital stays, could be eased simply by placing trained midwives, with appropriate equipment,  in  communities.

Episode two follows the journey of Shillene McNaughtan, a mother of three, pregnant with her fourth child. It is Shillene’s belief that the birthing centre at Six Nations is the more suitable location for a natural act of life, rather than attending a hospital for a procedure.  In Shillene’s case, we are also reminded of the complications gestational diabetes causes . Gestational diabetes in Indigenous women occurs at a rate five times the national average.

***Spoiler Alert*** Shillene gave birth to a healthy baby boy!

*This episode also touches on the government management of Indigenous reproduction with the forced sterilization of Indigenous women during the 1970’s. I wish we dug deeper into this very dark aspect of colonization in Canada.


Recap: Working it Out Together – Taking Control of Health

Season three’s premiere episode of Working it Out Together on APTN features co-creator/host Waneek Horn-Miller and Kahnawa:ke’s Heath Promotion Consultant Alex McComber as they tackle the effects of colonization and structural racism on the eating habits of First Nations people in Canada today. Currently it is estimated that 25% of people living on reserve have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which is more than double the rate of the general population of Canada. However Kanawa:ke has statistically remained constant at 12%.

We learn in this installment that obesity and diabetes can be directly linked to colonization. After the Canadian government limited the availability of traditional foods,  food was used as an instrument of control that coerced Indigenous people across Canada onto reserves. This act instantly meant that traditional, active self-sufficient ways were lost and life became sedentary and dependent. The foods that had been the norm were no longer. The government supplied communities with alternatives that were significantly higher in saturated fat, salt, sugar, and alcohol. This drastic dietary change further hampered the health and well-being of Indigenous populations across Canada.

The effects of the Indian Residential School compounded this problem by creating generations of young people with unhealthy relationships with food. Chronic hunger was the norm at residential schools, and the food that was supplied to students was consistently substandard in quality and nutritional value. Coupled with this unhealthy relationship with food that persists today is the lack of healthy food choices available to lower income families across Canada. Fresh and healthy foods with short shelf lives are always the more expensive choice; a price point often out of reach for lower income families struggling to feed their families. All of these factors have created a recipe for endemic health crises across Canadian communities.

Alex McComber believes the trauma of losing land, losing culture, and the horrors of the residential school system are to blame for the health crises that today’s Indigenous people experience.  To reverse this health crisis, healing from generations of traumas must first occur. Additionally, there is a strong focus on educating the youth of Kahnawa:ke about healthy lifestyles and choices, with the hope that it encourages family and community involvement as a whole.

To add a personal face to this crisis, we follow the story of Konwenni Jacobs, an active mother of two from Kahnawa:ke who has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. We experience her journey with her partner Brian Williams — recently diagnosed as pre-diabetic — as they struggle to improve their well-being, making healthy food choices and adhering to a stricter fitness regime.

This premiere episode drives home the fact that the ability to choose healthy foods in Canada has become a political issue, not just for Indigenous communities but for any community experiencing economic hardships.  However, McComber expands on this to remind us that the foods that we place in our bodies are not just fuel but medicine; everything we ingest is medicine for our bodies.

Season three’s premiere episode also coincides with today’s launch of the show’s companion online magazine Working It Out Together.