The number of people trained to provide culturally matched pregnancy, labor, and postpartum care for Alaska Native birthing families grew this year, with 27 people completing a full spectrum Indigenous doula training hosted by the Alaska Native Birthworkers Community (ANBC).
ANBC is a grassroots organization based in Degeyaqaq, also known as Anchorage, of volunteer Alaska Native reproductive justice advocates, full circle birth helpers (doulas), childbirth educators, breastfeeding counselors, healers, caregivers, public health researchers, scholars, parents, aunties, and a midwife. ANBC works to reclaim Indigenous birth practices and supports families from preconception through postpartum with culturally matched care. While direct services for Indigenous families preparing for and engaging in the ceremony of birth are an important component of what ANBC does, building capacity within the community is also essential to continue this work.
Even prior to the pandemic, many rural Alaska Native people birthed alone and far from their home communities. Evacuation from rural villages to hub hospitals is mandatory for low risk pregnancies, and those deemed high risk are sent to Anchorage, sometimes months ahead of their due date. The pandemic further restricted travel, access to patient housing, and support people who could attend a birth in the hospital. These conditions meant that many more birthing people had to face this transformative life experience alone. Over the past year, requests for support from doulas and birthworkers for individuals birthing at the Alaska Native Medical Center have increased to the point that ANBC could no longer meet the need. Fortunately, the group had been planning a training to help aspiring Alaska Native and Indigenous birthworkers living in Alaska to grow their capacity, competence, and confidence to support Indigenous families from pre-conception through birth, postpartum, and parenting.
The Indigenous Full Spectrum Doula training offered in May 2021 was originally planned for Spring 2020, but was delayed due to COVID. The co-founders of ANBC worked with Zaagi’idiwin, a Manitoba, Canada based Indigenous birthworker organization, to make this training available in a hybrid format. This meant that Anishinaabe/Dine Midwife, Melissa Brown, and her cohost, Metis Indigenous Doula Candace Neumann, zoomed in from their home territories, several time zones away. While some Alaskans were able to come together at the Alaska Native Heritage Center’s Athabascan Ceremonial House to learn in person, many of the cohort also joined virtually. There were participants from eleven different Alaskan communities. Creating a virtual space allowed for new moms, Elders, and those unable to travel across Alaska to join in this training.
ANBC offered this training free of personal financial cost to participants. However, participants were required to “pay it forward” by volunteering to serve at least one Alaska Native or Indigenous family in their community.
Speaking to the personal relevance of this training, a traditional healer and Elder who participated shared that she was grateful for the safe space ANBC provided to grow in this work together. Another participant shared the profound impact this training had on their lives by stating the following:
This training has put me back on the path to healing, both for myself and for my communities families. My favorite part was the storytelling with others and learning about ceremonies around birthing and pre/postpartum.
ANBC is now organizing to host a five-day certified Breastfeeding Counselor Training in October 2021 for up to 30 Indigenous birthworkers in Alaska. ANBC also plans to host a follow up event to a traditional plants workshop that was hosted online in March to teach birthing families and Indigenous birthworkers to make a nutritional herbal infusion and herbal iron syrup to support a healthy pregnancy. This doula training was funded in part by The CIRI Foundation.
The Alaska Native Birthworkers Community works to improve maternal, birth, and breastfeeding outcomes by reclaiming Indigenous birth practices, and increasing the capacity and reach of Indigenous birth workers. For more information about their work, please visit the Alaska Native Birthworkers website or contact Helena Jacobs at firstname.lastname@example.org.