My first MDP Field Placement is with The Winnipeg Boldness Project (Boldness), located in the heart of Point Douglas. Boldness is a social innovation lab that tackles social challenges and systematic barriers as identified by community members, and focuses on designing community-driven and community-led programs guided by a child-centered model.
Source: The University of Winnipeg's Master's in Development Practice students blog from the field., Ari Phanlouvong, 1st year MDP student
What drew me to Boldness is its involvement in supporting the first Indigenous doula program in Winnipeg and in Manitoba. This program is led by Wiiji'idiwag Ikwewag (Manitoba Indigenous Doula Initiative (MIDI)) which was founded in 2015 by a group of Indigenous women in Manitoba. In case you’re wondering what ‘doulas’ are, they are defined as helpers or birth companions to expectant mothers. Doulas support women through pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period, providing emotional and social support. An Indigenous doula possesses the same skills but also provides Indigenous women with support that is culturally based, enabling mothers to connect spiritually through traditions and ceremonies.
Wiiji'idiwag Ikwewag envisions the Indigenous doula program as an important step toward reclaiming birth in defiance of Health Canada’s maternal evacuation policy, which forces expectant mothers living on-reserve in rural and remote regions to be transferred out of their home communities to larger centres to give birth. This pilot program was made possible through the combined efforts of Wiiji'idiwag Ikwewag,Nanaandawegimig ((First Nations Health & Social Secretariat (FNHSSM)), the Winnipeg Boldness Project, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA), and Mount Carmel Clinic. In the coming years, the Indigenous doula program is expected to develop in Cross Lake and two other remote communities in Manitoba, underlining the necessity in supporting travelling expectant mothers and their families, and for a holistic approach to health.
Boldness is specifically involved in the evaluation of the Indigenous doula program. The first urban cohort of doulas was trained earlier this year and supported Indigenous mothers in Winnipeg, as well as mothers who travelled from Norway House Cree Nation and Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (Nelson House). Part of the evaluation process consists of meeting with doulas and the mothers they support, and conducting interviews. I was tasked with interviewing some of the families which helped better understand the impacts that the program has had in the community. Through stories told by the mothers and the doulas, I have learned about some of the barriers and challenges faced by Indigenous mothers in the healthcare system, the important role that doulas have as advocates for these women, and a strong desire in the community to welcome their children to the world in a way that fits with a family’s values and beliefs.
Image: The 1st cohort of Indigenous Doulas on the graduation day