As this wretched holiday descends upon us, I am contemplating deeply all my relations. In particular, I am holding my indigenous midwives in my heart as they have to witness the well-meaning people in their lives both celebrate the anniversary of one of countless massacres and forget the continued suffering of First Nation people on the land they once cared for intimately as the original people of the land. It was in midwifery school that I met a stoic Indigenous woman who never let anyone forget that we were on stolen land and that indigenous people were anything but a deceased people. I realized for the first time that I was participating in their continued genocide by believing in reparations for African American folks as being “40 acres and a mule” and forgetting that at any given moment, I was standing not on United States’ territory but stolen and occupied land. I hold myself accountable for having loved the Disney character Pocahontas so much and never realizing how by entertaining this fictional story, I was not educating myself about the actual rape of a teenage Indigenous woman during colonial times that was not quite as magical or full of joy. For the last 4 years, I have been so much more aware of the indigenous struggle because I decided not to be defensive and not engage in the oppression Olympics that often occurs when two oppressed people come into contact with each other and feel compelled to fight over who has the worst struggle.
This year I feel melancholic as the so-called Thanksgiving Day is being busily prepared for by people around me who either have no idea what this day is truly commemorating or justify it as a time to see their loved ones, give thanks, and gluttonously eat together. This time last year, Indigenous people were battling the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline at Standing Rock while most of the country also feasted during this awful holiday. It is incredible to me that not only were they protecting their ancestral burial grounds and water supply, but that they were also protecting everyone’s water supply and well-being in putting their bodies and lives on the line for all those months. To protect the earth and water is to protect every human and also the next couple of generations after us, and many First Nation elders and people are clear about that. Those of us fighting similar injustices of crimes committed on our bodies and people can benefit from such clarity that joins the health of the environment with our overall health. In my sadness, I would be remiss not to speak about how the mission to reduce Black maternal and infant mortality must be expanded to include actively; supporting the Indigenous midwives and activists fighting the struggles Indigenous pregnant and birthing individuals are also facing.
At the beginning of the month, I attended the Midwives Alliance of North America’s annual conference. I sat in a workshop facilitated by Indigenous midwives who spoke about the challenges Indigenous people face when interfacing with the Indian Health Service and also dealing with the ongoing genocide of Indigenous people in this country. The access to prenatal care that is culturally sensitive is very limited for pregnant and birthing folks, and it can prove difficult for them to be attended to by a midwife, much less a midwife of their nation. As I did some research, I learned that Indigenous people and their African American counterparts have very similar statistics in access to care and birth outcomes. I learned that Indigenous women have also been forcefully sterilized in the same way African American and Latina women have over the decades. I remember by the end of the workshop speaking to the Afro-descendant midwives that were also there and telling them that the movement for reducing Black maternal and infant mortality and morbidity must admit our silence on what is happening to our Indigenous relations while working in coalition to create a more expansive platform where the health of all marginalized people is centered. I feel that our struggles are slightly different but have more similarities and intersections than we’ve been led to believe. I feel sometimes a struggle with a scarcity mentality, that there is somehow not enough resources, time, platform or whatever to advocate for everyone and every cause. In actuality, there is more than enough; the issue is how those resources have been distributed and how marginalized folks have been led to believe we must fight for the microphone to get what we rightfully need without realizing this current system wants us to argue about whose struggle is more important rather than unite under a human rights umbrella that is nuanced and detailed in historical evidence and specific demands by group and cause.
Something I am aware of as a person who has roots in Dominican Republic, doesn’t know enough about the indigenous presence and history of Ayiti/Quisqueya, and had a journey in claiming her African roots is that this society is very polarized and operates in an “either/or” binary. I learned while doing work around antiblackness in the Latinx culture that the struggle for some of my Dominican folks was the strict Black/White binary they had to encounter in the United States that was unlike the racial stratification and more nuanced colorism. I mention this polarization that occurs in this country to drive home the point that between Black and White, there are so many cultures and nations that are also struggling against white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. The Black struggle in the United States has been one of much suffering and pain and the genocidal agenda that first touched these lands people like me were enslaved on began about two centuries before the Trans-Atlantic slave trade began in full force; I have to acknowledge that and pray not just for my ancestors but also the ancestors that were killed as this land was stolen and cleared so capitalism could wreck havoc on so many nations and on this earth.
As I continue to embrace a “yes, and” mentality, I am yearning for a movement that centers all people in the United States who are suffering in maternal and infant healthcare. I am in support of individual groups such as Black Mamas Matter, Black Women Birthing Justice, Indigenous Midwifery, The Changing Woman Initiative, International Center for Traditional, Ancient Song Doula Services (and so many more to name!) pursuing the causes and initiatives they are fiercely standing for while continuously building coalitions that elevate all work in the name of human rights. I believe we all have offenses we have committed on each other from oppressed person to oppressed person that need to be openly discussed and acknowledged as we strive for all of us to be dignified and respected. Especially today, on the eve before one of countless massacres of Indigenous folks in this country, I am elevating the struggle of Indigenous midwives as they reclaim and restore their healing and medicinal practices to their nations. I acknowledge I live on Lenape territory as someone who lives in the Bronx and that that history is not acknowledged with the attention it needs and deserves. I am grateful that I have been able to use Indigenous practices, such as a sweat lodge and sage but also hold myself accountable for not respecting where those traditions came from before I was aware of my own ignorance. And this year, I cannot celebrate Thanksgiving due to other circumstances and feel grateful that I can take this year to contemplate how I have been complicit and can continue to be better. It is my responsibility to uplift the struggle of Indigenous folks, especially in maternity and reproductive health.